The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control marks it’s tenth anniversary since it entered into force on February 27, 2005. The FCTC is the first such treaty negotiated under the auspices of the WHO. It provides an evidence-based approach to public health. Its main objective is to reaffirm the right of all people to the highest standards of health through supply and demand reduction to lessen the spread of the tobacco epidemic around the world. To date, there are 180 parties to the convention, with Zimbabwe being the latest entrant. Kenya, being a party to the FCTC and a leader in tobacco control, was accorded the privilege of hosting the celebrations for the WHO Afro region countries.
In 2007, Kenya passed the Tobacco Control Act, legislation aimed at reducing tobacco consumption. The Act domesticates the FCTC and provides for the banning of all forms of advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products. It also bans smoking in public places, increases taxes to discourage initiation to tobacco use, especially by the youth, and ultimately encourages quitting to those already hooked. It also legislates packaging and labelling of tobacco products, prohibits sale to and by children, and supports economically viable alternatives for tobacco farmers.
Today, I choose to celebrate the men and women among the government, particularly the Ministry of Health, who worked tirelessly to ensure this legislation and its implementation are effected. The civil society for their advocacy work and the support they have extended to the government over the years. The research institutions for providing evidence-based data that played a crucial role in putting together a sound and credible treaty as well as the Tobacco Act. Lastly, the tobacco control partners for their undying support, be it financial or moral.
However cliché as this may sound, tobacco is the only licensed product that is known to kill.
Let’s put into perspective the negative effects of tobacco to help us appreciate the work already done even though not celebrated as it deserves.
Tobacco not only affects its primary user, but also the secondary parties. For instance, it was a commonplace for many to smoke in the presence of their families, either in living rooms or bedrooms, with little cognisance of the adverse health effect they were or are imposing upon their loved ones. Second-hand smoking causes cancer, asthma and diabetes.
Before the law came into place, there was careless and inconsiderate smoking in public places and the tobacco industry could advertise its products at the expense of the health of the people. I bet a majority of us never realised just how much danger we were being exposed to.
How often, then, have you heard of children and wives, someone you know or even you suffering from asthma, diabetes or cancer, despite having no known genetic association to these diseases?
This is not to say that all diseases are primarily caused by tobacco, but I can almost confidently say that exposure to tobacco triggers these diseases, or worse still, aggravates the situation where it already exists.
Why do l celebrate then? I choose to celebrate this noble course that is worthy of recognition given that today there is no advertisement of tobacco products on our airwaves. Smoking in public places has significantly dropped, a relief, especially to non-smokers.
The level of awareness of the dangers of tobacco has markedly gone up. Today Kenya is recognised internationally for having the most effective method of curbing illicit trade through tracking and tracing.
All these efforts are directed at protecting the lives of Kenyans who are innocently exploited by the tobacco industry, which is only interested in growing its empires.
It is good to applaud good deeds, and I strongly believe this is one way of saying Thank You to the men and women who put their lives on the line to save our lives.
Lynn Kabaka is the communication officer, International Institute for Legislative Affairs.