BY GILBERT MWIJUKE
Kenya and Uganda are among the top 10 countries in the world to take tobacco control measures in 2021, when industry players used the Covid-19 pandemic to gain influence and undermine health policies.
The Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2021, published on November 2nd, analyzed 80 countries and shows that Brunei, New Zealand, Great Britain, France and Uganda perform best overall.
The index of STOP – the global watchdog of the tobacco industry – shows that Uganda took fifth place regionally and Kenya ninth place. Tanzania followed in 66th place. The last five places went to the Dominican Republic, Switzerland, Japan, Indonesia and Georgia.
“No country has been immune to industry efforts to use lobbying and donations, often associated with responding to a pandemic, to their advantage,” the report said.
The STOP report documents the efforts of various governments to implement the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which provides guidelines on how states can prevent the tobacco industry from interfering with public health policies.
“The tobacco industry has no concerns about taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic and is trying to clean up its image by supporting governments while at the same time undermining the implementation of the WHO FCTC,” said Dr. Adriana Blanco Marquizo, Head of the WHO FCTC Secretariat.
“Industry behavior during Covid-19 wasn’t just normal – this research suggests it was far worse in terms of scope and impact,” said Mary Assunta, lead author of the index.
A total of 31 countries saw the index deteriorate, in part due to the fact that many governments lacked public health resources during the pandemic, forcing them to accept donations from tobacco companies and compromise on product taxation.
Dr. Assunta said many countries are reluctant to implement tobacco laws.
In Tanzania, for example, the government has not banned tobacco advertising or increased taxation. Even when the country’s “efforts to update its old law began in 2007, the bill has not yet been tabled and continues to languish.”
In Kenya, British American Tobacco was initially allowed by the country’s Pharmacy and Poisons Board to register Lyft – the cigarette maker’s oral nicotine pouch product – which would classify it as a drug and ultimately shield it from tobacco regulations, but this was revoked.
But interventions by tobacco control advocates forced the government to reclassify Lyft as a tobacco product.
The STOP report also states that at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, cigarettes in Kenya were initially listed as “essential” and BAT was even allowed to bring its cigarette brands back onto the market.
“But in March 2021,” the report said, “the government removed tobacco products from its list of essential products through a special edition of the Kenya Gazette Supplement.”
“It is time for all countries to ban tobacco-related CSR activities,” she added.