Tobacco harm reduction among marginalized communities in Kenya

Every year, more than 8100 people in Kenya are killed by smoking-related diseases,even though fewer people use smokeless tobacco on average in Kenya than on average in medium-HDI countries. Tobacco harm reduction has not been widely accepted or implemented, with heavy taxes on reduced risk nicotine-containing products including e-cigarettes, snus, and ‘heat not burn’ products in Kenya. 

My project sought to improve the implementation and understanding of tobacco harm reduction among smokers, tobacco users, policymakers, and health care providers of marginalized communities in Kenya. Smoking cessation programs do not include safer nicotine products here in Kenya and so my project was for the purpose of improving the implementation and understanding of tobacco harm reduction among policymakers who inform policy for the local government health ministry. 

I conducted surveys in the form of questionnaires among smokers and health practitioners in some marginalized communities in Kenya, particularly in Western Kenya, Rift Valley, and Machakos County,

seeking to understand the perspective of harm reduction when it comes to smoking and tobacco use amongst smokers in rural areas. I also held a local workshop with local health workers in the smoking cessation department in Eldoret, to disseminate tobacco harm reduction scientific evidence of safer nicotine products. 

The survey indicates that most health professionals in rural Kenya do not understand that nicotine does not cause cancer, demonstrating that medical practitioners have little to no understanding on tobacco harm reduction and, therefore, cannot advise the government appropriately on matters tobacco. Noting that they are the ones that can add their voice and weight to national tobacco control efforts and become involved at the national level in promoting tobacco harm reduction. The policy of tobacco harm reduction seeks to reduce the heavy toll from cigarettes by moving smokers towards less risky alternatives like vaping. This approach is gaining momentum in countries whose advanced tobacco control policies are significantly reducing smoking rates and thereby saving lives. In Kenya, however, too many people are determined to stick to the failed tobacco control policy of quit-or-die and the myths used to perpetuate it. 

From the surveys taken, the vast majority of the respondents want to use tobacco harm reduction products, such as nicotine pouches and vapes/e-cigarettes, to help them quit traditional cancer-causing cigarettes. Yet almost three in four people find these innovative life-saving products too expensive or difficult to get hold of, and almost all would stop using them if the government increased their price. The results demonstrate the urgent need for our regulators to treat safer nicotine products as an essential and effective tool in the battle to save lives lost to tobacco-caused disease every year.  Almost all of the smokers who took part in the survey think safer nicotine products will give them the best chance of quitting successfully. 

From this research, it came out clearly that instead of adopting a dogmatic, unscientific stance against tobacco harm reduction, Kenya should be embracing it as an exciting opportunity to save thousands of lives lost to cigarettes.

Read the full research HERE


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