Anti-tobacco lobby against Kenya-South Korea tobacco trade deal

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By Panagri Media Reporter, The Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (KETCA) has asked the President to reconsider the trade deal between Kenya and South Korea on tobacco.

During a 3-day official visit to South Korea in November President William Ruto and his counterpart agreed to have Kenya increase its exports to South Korea which include Tea, Coffee, and Tobacco.

It is for this reason, KETCA has urged the President to reconsider the agreement as the country will now endeavor to increase its production in tobacco farming which has for the past been discouraged.

Speaking on Wednesday, the KETCA national coordinator Thomas Lindi said that numerous studies done in Kenya show tobacco farming is unprofitable and leaves farmers poor and sick with green leaf tobacco sickness and other diseases.

The lobby argues that the agreement between the countries contravenes and violates the Tobacco Control Act of 2007 that seeks to end the rising deaths caused by tobacco use. It also seeks to cut diseases triggered by tobacco use, such as cancer, diabetes and heart diseases and also commits the government to continually phase out tobacco farming in Kenya.

“Any treaty or agreement that binds Kenya to promote tobacco farming is against the Tobacco Control Act and is therefore illegal. We ask the government to immediately cancel aspects of the Kenya-South Korea agreement that touch on tobacco,” Mr Lindi said.

On his part, KETCA Chairman Joel Gitari said that tobacco growing farmers should be given the necessary support to switch to alternative crops that have the potential to improve their health and livelihoods as well as reduce the supply of tobacco.

“The World Health Organization (WHO), the World Food Programme, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with the Government of Kenya in March this year launched the Tobacco-Free Farms project in western Kenya,” the Chairman added.

He noted that in Migori, farmers have planted high-iron beans as an alternative crop to tobacco with the UN agencies providing training, quality inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, and a ready market for the harvest, through the World Food Programme’s (WFP’s) local procurement initiatives.

According to KETCA, by the end of this year, exposure to tobacco smoke and other tobacco products will have killed more than 9,000 Kenyans while about 40,000 Kenyans will have been diagnosed with various forms of cancer, many of them caused by tobacco use. These estimates come from Kenya’s Ministry of Health and have been ratified by the World Health Organization.

“When the President took the oath of office on September 13, he promised Kenyans the highest standards of health. However, we are concerned because despite the promise, it is likely the number of Kenyans killed by tobacco through diseases such as cancer will increase with the tobacco trade deal between Kenya and South Korea that will see an increase in production of tobacco that will also lead to increase in its usage in the country,” Lindi noted.

The lobby group has also welcomed the move by Nairobi Members of County Assembly to push for the enforcement of shisha ban.

On December 27, 2017, Kenya implemented a comprehensive ban on shisha, including the use, import, manufacture, sale, offer of sale, advertising, promotion, distribution and encouraging or facilitating its use. This ban has been upheld by all courts of law, where it was challenged.

Despite the ban, shisha is still being sold widely in many nightclubs within the country especially in Nairobi the country.

“A few individuals running night clubs in Nairobi have routinely rubbished the 2017 ban,” KETCA chair Joel Gitali said.

“Studies of tobacco-based shisha show that the smoke contains carbon monoxide and other toxic agents known to increase the risks for smoking-related cancers, heart disease and lung disease.”

“We commend Nairobi City County MCAs for pushing for the enforcement of Shisha ban and encourage them to push for full implementation of Tobacco Control policies,” said Mr Gitali.

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