The cheap cost of cigarettes in Kenya —sold as a single stick instead of by the pack as required by law — is keeping smokers on a habit that the world targets to reduce drastically, a new survey ahead of the World Tobacco Day, tomorrow, has shown.
In the survey conducted in Nairobi and Embu Counties, smokers indicated that they have considered quitting due to health concerns, but not because of cost, since they can still afford to buy a few sticks at a time, instead of whole packs. Price was actually the least mentioned reason for why respondents felt motivated to quit smoking. In fact, the study showed that certain groups of people were likely to spend more money on smoking than on other more important needs.
“Young people, the less-educated and people with lower incomes are paying more for cigarettes and spending a greater proportion of their income on tobacco at the expense of other individual and family needs,” the research paper states in part.
While a cigarette pack, containing 20 sticks, costs between Sh120 to Sh250, neighbourhood shopkeepers and street vendors across the country sell a single stick for between Sh7 to Sh10. As a result of these tobacco products being accessible and affordable, over 60 per cent of tobacco users in the two counties reported smoking nine sticks a day, on average.
The total market value of cigarettes in Kenya is estimated at Sh35 billion, which translates to about 7.4 billion sticks.
This is based on responses from 592 smokers who were surveyed by the International Institute for Legislative Affairs (IILA) for a study titled Influence of retail price on tobacco smoking habits in Kenya: A case study of smokers in Nairobi and Embu Counties.
Most adult smokers (90 per cent) started smoking as teens or children.
Higher prices and taxation are considered the most effective means of controlling and stopping tobacco use in the world as stated in the study:
“As tobacco retail prices increased (in the past two years under the Excise Duty Act of 2015), most smokers chose to smoke fewer cigarettes or opted to change to cheaper brands rather than to quit, unless the tobacco retail prices rose to very high levels.”
However, despite the effect of higher prices and taxes on tobacco control, Emma Wanyonyi, the Executive Director of IILA, says that the gains are being eroded.
“It is surprising that in the 2017-2018 budget statement, the Treasury CS (Henry Rotich) has taken an about-turn by introducing a two-tier tax structure of Sh2,500 per 1,000 cigarettes with filters and Sh1,800 per 1,000 cigarettes for plain cigarettes,” she says.
What this means is that economy cigarette brands such as Rooster and Rocket will cost less than premium brands like Dunhill and Embassy and mid-priced brands like Sportsman, Sweet Menthol, Super Match and Safari.
Mr Rotich says the move was informed by “industry concerns” on current taxation of cigarettes which was termed as inequitable and adversely affected demand for locally produced low-value cigarettes.
This move was to cushion local cigarette manufacturers and in turn spur growth in sale of cheaper cigarette brands whose demand had gone down due to high taxation.
This, however, from a public health perspective, Ms Wanyonyi maintains, is unsettling.
“The cigarette types targeted for the reduction in tax rate are mostly consumed by low-income earners who already bear a disproportionate share of the health and economic burden,” she notes.
Therefore, the study recommends a review of tobacco taxation and excise duty tax on cigarettes which is currently lower than the World Health Organisation recommended 70 per cent of retail selling price. It also recommends a uniform tax structure for all tobacco products, equal treatment of all tobacco product brands and elimination of pro-poor policies that keep some cigarette brands within reach of low-income earners.
The study also shows that there is a lower incidence of tobacco use by women. Like the 2014 Global Adult Tobacco Survey, the study found that a majority of female tobacco users (83 per cent) use smokeless tobacco.
However, the research indicates that given that female smokers are frowned upon, there is a high likelihood that they would be unlikely to join other smokers in the designated smoking areas.
1. Protect gains achieved so far, including the current tax structure under the Excise Duty Act, 2015 (single/uniform tax structure applicable to all tobacco products).
2. Progressively increase tobacco excise tax rates towards the WHO recommended 70 per cent of retail selling price.
3. Eliminate ‘pro- poor policies’ in relation to taxation of tobacco products to protect low-income earners from the disproportionate burden of accompanying health costs.
4. Equal treatment of all tobacco products to avoid brand switching.
5. Strengthen enforcement of ban in single sticks as provided for in the Tobacco Control Act.
About 1 million cancer deaths per year globally are due to tobacco smoking.
There are about 2.5 million tobacco users in the country, mostly men. On average, a Kenyan smoker spends about Sh48 a day or Sh1, 072 a month on cigarettes, with young people aged 15 to 24 years spending nearly double that amount per month on the habit.