At least 30,000 of our family members, friends or other Kenyans who were alive on January 1st this year, will not see the end of the year. Reason? They will have been killed through exposure to tobacco.
Today, the Supreme Court has ruled to stop this senseless killing of defenceless Kenyans.
Since 2007, when the Tobacco Control Act was enacted, every attempt by the government to implement and enforce the law to protect the lives of Kenyans, has been opposed or blocked by the tobacco industry.
The Tobacco Control Regulations, 2014, which are expected to operationalize this act, had also been blocked since 2015.
On behalf of tobacco control and public health advocates in Kenya, we thank the Supreme Court for upholding the regulations, confirming they conform to the Kenyan Constitution, whose main goal is also to protect the health and lives of Kenyans.
By upholding the Tobacco Control Regulations, 2014, the Supreme Court has protected our school-going daughters or sons who were being preyed on by cigarette manufacturers.
It is now clear that cigarette manufacturers MUST now print clear graphical warnings on their products, admitting that the continued use of these products leads to disability, diseases and death.
The World Health Organisation has already demonstrated that tobacco kills up to half of its users. This is more than 8 million victims each year globally. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being involuntarily exposed to second-hand smoke.
In Kenya, both the Tobacco Atlas (2018) and the Kenya STEPwise Survey for Non-Communicable Diseases Risk Factors (2015), show that exposure to causes severe health complications and eventual deaths of tobacco users.
Data from the Ministry of Health shows that Kenya has 2.5 million adults who are regular tobacco users.
Tobacco use is currently among the top five leading behavioural causes of cancer, and is responsible for about a third of cancer deaths globally, according to WHO.
Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that one in 11 deaths in Kenya was caused by cancer in 2017, making it the third deadliest disease after malaria and pneumonia.
Tobacco causes cancer of the mouth and throat, liver, pancreas, oesophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, larynx (voicebox), trachea, bronchus, urinary bladder, cervix, kidney and renal pelvis, as well as acute myeloid leukaemia.
It is also responsible for a host of other non-communicable diseases in Kenya.
These regulations seek to stop these unnecessary deaths, and sicknesses. Regulation Number 37 that requires manufacturers to pay the solatium compensatory contribution at 2% of the value of the tobacco manufactured or imported by the manufacturer or importer in that financial year, is especially welcome.
This fund can be ploughed into health programs to clear the mess created by tobacco use.
Now that it is clear that the Tobacco Control Regulations are constitutional and mean well for Kenyans, we urge the Ministry of Health and all other bodies involved in the implementation and enforcement of the regulations to act expeditiously in order to redeem the time lost unnecessarily in court. Indeed, with the national roll-out of the Universal Health Coverage expected beginning early next year, Kenya must join the rest of the world to protect the health and lives of people from disease, disability and death.
Together forever, the fight against tobacco MUST be won.