Tobacco companies have found a way around the ban on advertising of their products to directly target children in school and lure them into smoking cigarettes.
Two studies that were released this year have exposed how the companies use deceptive and predatory marketing practices to glamourise and normalise smoking while downplaying the adverse health effects of tobacco products to drive consumption among young people.
Of particular concern to the researchers was the display of tobacco products alongside sweets, candies, snacks or soda.
An investigation by the Institute for Global Tobacco Control found cigarettes on sale within 250m radius of schools in Nairobi, and sometimes closer. Tobacco companies incentivise retailers near schools to place their products alongside sweets, candies and soft drinks and to display them at the eye level of children. Kiosk and vending stalls sell single cigarettes, which make them affordable to students, in colourful display cases.
Targeting children is a sure way of keeping tobacco companies in business given that past studies have shown that adults over the age of 18 are much less likely to pick up smoking. Studies also show that once one starts smoking quitting is extremely difficult.
More than a third of tobacco retailers in Nairobi are located within eyesight of schools, shows the study that was done in 23 countries across four continents. The study sampled 860 retail outlets in Nairobi within 250-meter radius of schools, of which 664 (77 per cent) sold tobacco products. Of the retailers that stocked tobacco products near learning institutions, 250 were located within eyesight of a school.
Of particular concern to the researchers was the display of tobacco products alongside sweets, candies, snacks or soda. An overwhelming majority of tobacco retailers within eyesight of schools in Nairobi (four in five retailers) displayed their products near these goodies that children favour in their shops, kiosks and vending stands.
Just one in six of the tobacco retailers near schools displayed signage that sales are prohibited to youth under 18 years. Furthermore, all the tobacco retailers sold single cigarettes. The sale of single cigarettes is prohibited by the Tobacco Control Act.
Near school gates, tobacco products were showcased in the cashier zone in three-quarters of the outlets or behind the cashier zone (17 per cent). Less than two per cent of all observed tobacco retailers had health warning labels visible on all displayed packs as required by the tobacco law.
The findings reveal that children age 13-15 have easy access to cigarettes close to their schools from kiosks, shops, street vendors and even mobile sellers.
The findings of the global study titled: Big Tobacco: Tiny Targets are affirmed by a separate study that was done in Nairobi, Mbale, Kakamega and Chuka by the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (KETCA). The study that was released in July this year found that tobacco advertising and promotion is still very prevalent at point-of-sale in Kenya despite comprehensive ban on advertising and promotion. “Of the 400 tobacco vendors we visited in this study, we observed a form of advertising and promotion in 393 vendors (98 per cent),” said Ms Salome Nyambura, the lead researcher of the KETCA study.
The median age for initiating tobacco use in Kenya is 12 years, according to the National Authority for the Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada). Data from the authority indicates that tobacco use prevalence among youth age 15-24 is three per cent. This means that about 300,000 young people age 15-24 use tobacco products, out of which two-thirds smoke cigarettes. Apart from manufactured cigarettes and cigars, other tobacco products include hand-rolled cigarettes, pipes, shisha, snuff, chewed tobacco and kuber.
About a third (35 per cent) of smokers in Kenya have attempted to quit smoking and most failed, illustrating the difficulty faced in breaking the addiction. Only seven per cent of smokers who attempt to quit smoking in Kenya succeed, with the highest success rate being among those aged between 15 and 24, at 17 per cent, followed by those aged 45-64 (12 per cent) and age 25-44 (three per cent), according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2014.
Other tactics used by tobacco companies to lure children to smoke globally include flavoured cigarettes, toys and sweets that resemble tobacco products and monetary incentives for retailers who display their products prominently, found the major global investigation.
Kenya’s Tobacco Control Act specifically bans advertising of tobacco products on any medium of electronic, print or any other form of communication. The law provides no exceptions for point-of-sale advertising and promotion. It also specifically prohibits product display that permits a person to handle the tobacco product before paying for it, thereby requiring that products be held or displayed behind the counter.
Additionally, the definition of ‘advertisement’ within the current law includes product stacking or products displays of any kind or size. Thus, any means of tobacco product advertising, stacking, and displays are prohibited at the point-of-sale.
To mitigate the problem, the Head of Tobacco Control Unit in the Ministry of Health Dorcas Kiptui, announced that the government intends to integrate tobacco control into the training institutions curriculum. “We have already incorporated tobacco control teaching in the primary and secondary school curriculum in collaboration the Ministry of Education,” she said during the launch of the KETCA study titled: Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Product Display at Point-of-ale in Kenya.
Big tobacco companies admit that flavoured cigarettes appeal to younger customers but they deny promoting their products to children.
Dr Kiptui said the government has also incorporated the subject into the curriculum for dentists, medical and clinical officers. "It is clear from the findings of various studies that increased awareness through education has the long term consequences on those abusing certain tobacco products," she said.
Big tobacco companies admit that flavoured cigarettes appeal to younger customers but they deny promoting their products to children. The global study, which was published in March this year, quotes Philip Morris International (PMI) which asserted that it does not market to children anywhere in the world and British American Tobacco (BAT) which stated that it has strict rules against targeting children.
The studies recommend that a complete ban of tobacco product display, in a jurisdiction were advertising, and promotion are already banned in retail locations (such as Kenya), would comply with Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) provisions and more effectively protect the public, especially youth from tobacco products.
Article 13 of the World Health Organization’s FCTC bans all forms of advertisement, promotion and sponsorship, including the retail display of tobacco products.
Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. In Kenya, it is linked to more than 70 per cent of lung cancers, according to the National Guidelines for Cancer Management. It also causes cancer in almost all parts of the body and cardiovascular illnesses such as heart disease and strokes.
People who quit smoking have a lower risk of lung cancer than if they had continued to smoke, but their risk is higher than the risk for people who never smoked.
Quitting smoking at any age can lower the risk of lung cancer, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Data from the latest Economic Survey indicates that 11.3 billion cigarette and cigar sticks were consumed in Kenya in 2016, a two-thirds increase from 6.7 billion in 2012.
Fieldwork for the KETCA study was done in November 2017 while data collection for the Institute for Global Tobacco Control study happened in July 2016.