Though the courts have put off Kenya's ministry of health's anti-smoking legislation for one month, cigarette manufacturers are in for a global war of attrition and there is little hope of victory.
Minister Charity Ngilu's gazette notice, that the courts revoked, is receiving support from an unlikely quarter - the doctors, the people who almost directly benefit from the things manufacturers are being accused of.
Renowned cardiologist Dr Dan Gikonyo says smokers expose themselves and others to Coronary Heart Disease, a condition he warns may soon be the main cause of death for most Kenyans in their middle age.
Gikonyo feels smoking is a big threat that cuts across the economic divide. "The poor smoke cheap brands and the rich expensive ones. When you smoke in public places you intrude into other people's environment," he says.
According to Dr Richard Gakunju, a medical consultant with the National Agency for Control of Drug Abuse (Nacada), the recently introduced regulations by Minister for Health Charity Ngilu against public smoking come after "many years of struggle."
Lobby groups are not helping either. "When they give us one shilling we lose three shillings. Can farmers really claim to be in business?" Whines George Hezron Kivanda, the Secretary General of Kenya Anti-Tobacco Growing Association (KATGA).
He is referring to a survey the organization conducted in 2000. He explains: "We took a pen and evaluated tobacco grown on one acre of land. We evaluated the whole process up to sale at the highest price and ended with a deficit of Shs 57,823. Tobacco industries were mad that we had finally revealed their secrets."
The survey was conducted in Migori district which together with neighbouring Kuria record the highest tobacco output every year but dominate economic indexes as among the poorest places in Kenya.
It is a culmination of sorts for cigarette manufacturers based in Kenya but a network of lobbyists who include Nacada and the World Health Organisation officially say 8,000 Kenyans die from smoking related illnesses while 4,000 others die from passive smoking annually.
In February this year 133 countries gathered in Geneva to prevent the projected "death of 200million people" world wide by 2050 from tobacco-related illnesses. According to a press release from WHO, strong legislation, graphic warning labels and advertising bans should help bring a 50 percent reduction in uptake and consumption rates.
The first meeting of the governing body has garnered 113 full parties, Kenya included, out of the 194 eligible parties. Full parties represent at this moment 74 percent of the world's population. In February next year, the first contracting parties will submit to initial reports on their progress, specifying what actions they have taken to implement the tobacco control measures established in the Treaty.
"This is a crucial time for people suffering the consequences of tobacco use," Dr Yumiko Mochizuki-Kobayashi, Director of the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative was quoted as saying. "Tobacco is still the top preventable cause of death. The goal is to see it fall from that position in our lifetime. With continued commitment from Member States, we will achieve that goal."
In her sleeves, Kenya has water tight measures that, going by the two bills pending in parliament will "protect and promote interest of tobacco growers by progressively phasing out tobacco growing." Primarily viewed as protecting non-smokers, Ngilu's regulations are understood to be stop gap measures before parliament passes the bills.
Indeed, George Kivanda says they have already identified Passion Fruits, Soya Beans, and Pineapples to replace tobacco. "Unlike tobacco these are economically viable and do not poison the soil," he avers. Nacada's Acting National Coordinator John Langat says the country has "at last" joined a league of at least nine other African countries including Tanzania and Uganda to negotiate non smoking in public places.
But as expected, manufacturers have come out with both barrels blazing. Their most successful arsenal so far, is a threat to ground operations and render thousands of Kenyans jobless. It is a time-tested weapon and works effectively, especially in the developing countries.
Ngilu's directive orders them to replace the old "ministry of health warning" sign on cigarette packets with a large print saying "Smoking Kills." But British American Tobacco's (BAT) corporate and regulatory affairs director Keli Kiilu and Mastermind's human resource manager Joshua Kirimania complain they were given "only a fortnight" while they need about 12 months to comply. Kiilu also argues government must strike a balance between the needs of smokers and non-smokers.
Langat has the answer: "The rights of smokers end where non-smokers start smelling smoke." The Nacada boss feels manufacturers are simply buying time as they already have configured packets for their export brands. He further calls for a hike in tax so that cigarette smoking remains "a preserve of the select few who have a signed a pact with death."
The Nairobi-based manufacturers - Mastermind, Cut Tobacco and BAT - insist the ministry of health measures will only grind them to a halt. They have severally prophesied massive retrenchments of their staff and massive loss of revenue to the government.
Dr Gakunju says the government should not invite manufacturers to a round table. "When you speak about malaria you should not invite mosquitoes to the conference." He wonders why the complaining companies do not address issues pertaining to farmers' health.
Globally, Cigarette manufacturers are in a big mess. When lobbyists point to lung cancer and other cigarette-induced illnesses, they point out 'the huge' taxes they pay. But recent studies by (none other than) the International Monetary Fund show this could be propaganda. Smoking is costly.
A research published in December 1999's issue of Finance and Development, IMF's quarterly magazine, reported that smoking-related health care accounts for between 6 and 15 percent of all annual health care costs worldwide, and nonsmokers bear a significant share of these costs.
The report, Death and Taxes: Economics of Tobacco Control, by three senior World Bank and IMF economists, negated traditional beliefs that tobacco controls will cause permanent job losses. "Falling demand for tobacco does not necessarily mean a decline in a country's total employment level. Money that smokers once spent on cigarettes would instead be spent on other goods and services, generating new jobs to replace those lost in the tobacco industry. Several independent studies show that most countries would see no net job losses, and that a few would see net gains, if tobacco consumption fell".
Leading economies like the US and UK have already banned smoking in public places, and advertising of tobacco products within their countries. It has been a war of attrition and anti-smoking lobbyists now cross their fingers believing tobacco industries have finally met their nemesis.
The 2006 Tobacco Control Bill by legislator Gor Sunguh makes cigarette business such a taxing enterprise. Besides a raft of proposed fines the bill empowers a relevant minister to appoint "authorized officers" who, for the enforcement of the act, are authorized by section 36(1) to enter shops, industries, farms or any place handling or suspected to be handling tobacco and search computers, reproduce data and even cart it away for "examination"-any day between 6am to 6pm.
But the utmost thrust of the bill is proscription of any advertising of tobacco products, even indirectly. Section 24 bans advertising by "organizing, promoting or sponsoring sporting, cultural, artistic, and recreational, entertainment program, event, etc." It also bans advertising at any of these events.
Though it never calls for a total tobacco ban, the bill leaves the industry on its last legs. Dr Gakunju says a total ban would be unworkable. "We will still need the same nicotine to bring addicted smokers out of it."
But Nacada proposes a hybrid of Gor Sunguh's bill and the ministry of Health's Tobacco Bill 2004. Langat feels ignorance about harmful effects of tobacco is still very high. "That's why we need to lobby for a comprehensive bill to go through," he says.
And "victims" of tobacco are now rising against the people who made them "cool". An instance of this is Amos Murigu from Kinangop. He has already sued BAT for the loss of his left leg. He claims his leg was amputated after clogging of blood vessels arising from the nicotine level in his body. "I had two legs now I have one. Cigarettes are bad," he told journalists at a meeting organized by Nacada last week.
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