Lawmakers want addictive Velo pouches banned in Kenya

Saturday October 07 2023

A container of the Nicotine sachets known as LYFT which was banned by Kenya's Health Ministry on October 7, 2020. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


Nicotine pouches sold by the Kenyan arm of British American Tobacco (BAT) may cease to be on the shelves after lawmakers asked the government to outlaw it.

Members of Parliament (MPs) want the Ministry of Health to ban the sale of the Nicotine pouches in the country.

On Wednesday, appearing before the National Assembly to answer various questions from MPs, Health Cabinet Secretary (CS) Susan Nakhumicha was pressed to explain how the addictive nicotine product found its way into Kenya when a similar product known as Lyft was recalled from the Kenyan market by her predecessor.

While Velo brand has been gaining popularity, its packaging does not fully disclose the health risks or effects associated with it, as required by law.

Read: BAT Velo pouches blow smoke over anti-tobacco laws

The Kenya Tobacco Control Act of 2007 - which regulates all tobacco products and the nicotine pouches - requires the packaging of these products to carry warnings in both English and Kiswahili.


On Wednesday, Nominated MP Sabina Chege brought two tins of Velo pouches to the National Assembly chamber to illustrate the highly addictive substance that is freely sold on the local market.

The Velo products sold in Kenya have only one warning on the front: "This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical. But health experts say nicotine, natural or otherwise, has more health risks than addiction.”

However, according to CS Nakumicha, Velo is imported from Hungary and distributed in the country by BAT Kenya Limited.

"British American Tobacco (BAT) Kenya PLC is licensed to manufacture tobacco products in Kenya and has sought to manufacture nicotine pouches in Kenya, but this has not yet commenced. There is no local manufacturer of nicotine pouches in the country, therefore all nicotine pouches are imported," the CS said. 

Ms Chege wondered why the government would allow an addictive drug imported from Hungary into Kenya and wanted the government to reconsider the decision that it (Velo) should be banned until it is properly investigated so that "we save our generation and young people."

The Health CS said the ministry would set up a technical team to look into the Tobacco Act of 2007 and come up with recommendations.

Read: Kenya crafts standards for nicotine pouches in anti-tobacco campaign

"If Madam Speaker were to make a statement that Velo should be removed from the market, we as the Ministry of Health would be the happiest because we will have saved the lives of many Kenyans. But we are all relying on the Tobacco Act of 2007," the CS said.

"We have put together a technical team to review the Tobacco Act, 2007 and they will bring it to Parliament."

A 2015 study published by the US National Centre for Biotechnology Information is one of many research projects that have shown that nicotine, despite being touted as a safer alternative to tobacco, is not entirely harmless to the human body.

"Nicotine poses several health risks. There is an increased risk of cardiovascular, respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases. There is a diminished immune response, and it also has adverse effects on reproductive health," says the study's lead author, Indian oncologist Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi.

"The use of nicotine needs to be regulated. The sale of nicotine should be under the supervision of trained medical personnel," Chaturvedi added.

Health concerns about the cultivation and use of tobacco products have contributed to a significant decline in smoking.

Read: WHO stands its ground against tobacco industry

The Kenyan government and civil society organisations have also stepped up efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths by encouraging tobacco farmers to switch to safer crops. 

The Tobacco-free Farms Project in Kenya, for example, was launched last year by the WHO in partnership with the country's government, the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization to help farmers switch from dangerous tobacco to other crops such as maize and beans.

BAT has sought to diversify its product range beyond cigarettes and has successfully added heat-not-burn products, traditional oral products (Grizzly), vapour or electronic cigarettes and modern oral products such as Velo.

The sale of nicotine pouches in Kenya was stopped in 2019 after the country's Ministry of Health questioned why they were regulated by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board rather than the Tobacco Control Board under the Tobacco Act of 2007. 

Their sale was allowed in 2022 after it was agreed that they should be regulated by the TCB, meaning they would be treated as tobacco products.