Health ministry criticized for approving nicotine pouches in the country

Lyft nicotine pouches. The government has been criticized for allowing the pouches into the country./COURTESY

The decision by the Ministry of Health to license nicotine pouches and allow them back into the Kenyan market has been vehemently opposed by Tobacco control and health advocates.

In a joint press conference in Nairobi on Saturday, Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (KETCA) together with National Parents Association, called the move disastrous and demanded the pouches be banned completely just like other countries have done.

According to KETCA Chair Joel Gitali, current evidence shows the products are harmful to human health and should be banned completely.

The chair noted that nicotine is an extremely addictive drug that causes dependence and withdrawal, saying since the pouches were introduced, there has been a sharp rise in the reported cases of nicotine addiction among learners.

He added that claims by cigarette manufacturer BAT- Kenya, which has a brand called LYFT, that the pouches are harm-reducing agents, creates a false perception of safety.

“A lower risk of adverse health outcomes is achieved by eliminating tobacco use and not by substituting another form of tobacco use,” said Gitali.

He called on Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe to punish officials of the Pharmacy and Poisons Board who had in 2019 illegally registered the products as “medicine”.

“They should not be let off the hook and we expect them to be held to account. Officials of BAT who colluded with them must also be punished,” he said.

KETCA National Coordinator Thomas Lindi, also added that the only way to control the growing nicotine crisis in Kenya is to ban the pouches, citing the fact that the tobacco industry routinely flouts the Tobacco Control Act and there is no evidence they will respect the law this time

National Parents Association Chairman Nicholus Maiyo, noted that nicotine is worse than cigarettes since the nicotine in cigarettes is less than that in the pouches, urging the government to carry out chemical analyses and tell us what other chemicals may be contained inside.

The manufacturers last week confirmed they had reached a deal with MoH to reintroduce their products into the market under the condition that they are registered as tobacco products.

Tobacco industry has 21 days to comply, counted from February 9, 2021.