Kenya Top Stories


Harm reduction specialist impulse with policymakers to save smokers lives

By Stephen Musyoka

Lawmakers risk missing a golden opportunity to save lives
and reduce the public health burden caused by cigarette smoking if they launch an indiscriminate
and ill-informed offensive against safer alternatives, harm reduction specialists warned today.

The experts were responding to an announcement by Public Health Principal Secretary Mary
Muthoni that she intends to “wipe out” nicotine products

Dr Michael Kariuki, secretary-general of the Harm Reduction Society, said: “Alternative
nicotine products like regulated vapes and oral pouches are scientifically proven to be far less
harmful than cigarettes and are the most successful method for helping smokers to quit.
“Regulation of these products is, of course, necessary, to protect children and the youth. However,
that regulation should be evidence-based and proportionate to the risks posed, after taking into
consideration the smokers who need these therapeutic products.”

Joel Sawa, spokesperson for Campaign for Safer Alternatives (CASA), said: “If smokers can’t or
won’t quit, we need to help them switch to safer alternatives. The best way to save lives is to
ensure that tobacco-free products like regulated nicotine pouches and vapes are affordable and

“Wiping them from the market leaves smokers with no option but to keep smoking. It’s
unthinkable that policymakers are even considering indiscriminate, ill-informed and non-
evidence-based actions against them without any heed to this potential mishap.”
The experts, speaking at a joint press conference in Nairobi, pointed to the growing weight of
international evidence showing the beneficial impact of alternative nicotine products:

Researchers at the University of Nairobi have found that there was little or no quality
control in terms of levels of toxicants or psychoactive ingredients of oral stimulants such
as khat and smokeless tobacco products such as pan, tambu, gutkha, Kuber, toombak,
sniffed and chewed tobacco in Kenya, which put their users at considerable health risks
and that regulated oral nicotine products carry similar levels of toxicants and risks as
nicotine replacement therapies which feature on the WHO’s list of essential medicines.

The US Food and Drug Administration says Modified Risk Tobacco Products (MRTPs)
“will significantly reduce harm and the risk of tobacco-related disease to individual
tobacco users and benefit the health of the population as a whole”1
.Such MRTPs are
regulated nicotine pouches and vapes which are largely used in countries such as Swede

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