Kenya and Uganda are among the top 10 countries worldwide that implemented tobacco control measures in 2021 as industry players took advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to gain influence and undermine health policies.
The Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2021 released on November 2 analysed 80 countries and shows that Brunei, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France and Uganda ranked best overall.
The index by STOP — the global tobacco industry watchdog — shows that regionally, Uganda took fifth position while Kenya came nineth. Tanzania trailed at number 66. The Dominican Republic, Switzerland, Japan, Indonesia and Georgia claimed the last five spots.
“No country was immune to the industry’s efforts to use lobbying and donations, often connected to pandemic response, to its advantage,” the report reads.
The STOP report documents the efforts by different governments in implementing the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which outlines guidelines on how states can stop the tobacco industry from interfering with public health policies.
“The tobacco industry has had no qualms about taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic, attempting to sanitise its image through providing assistance to governments, while continuing to interfere with implementation of the WHO FCTC,” said Dr Adriana Blanco Marquizo, head of the Secretariat of the WHO FCTC.
“The industry’s behaviour during Covid-19 wasn’t just business as usual — this research suggests it’s been far worse in terms of scale and impact,” said Mary Assunta, lead author of the index.
A total of 31 countries registered a deterioration in the index partly due to the fact that many governments were short of public health resources during the pandemic, which forced them to accept donations from tobacco companies and compromise on taxing products.
Dr Assunta said many countries are reluctant to implement tobacco laws.
In Tanzania, for example, the government did not ban tobacco advertising or increase taxation. Also, even though the country’s “efforts to update their old law started in 2007, the Bill has not been tabled and continues to languish”.
In Kenya, British American Tobacco was initially allowed by the country’s Pharmacy and Poisons Board to register Lyft — the cigarette maker’s oral nicotine pouch product — which would classify it as a drug and ultimately shield it from tobacco regulations but this was revoked.
But interventions by tobacco control advocates compelled the government to reclassify Lyft as a tobacco product.
In addition, the STOP report says that at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, cigarettes in Kenya were initially listed as “essential” and that BAT was even allowed to relaunch its cigarette brands.
“But in March 2021,” the report says, “through a Special Issue of the Kenya Gazette Supplement, the government dropped tobacco products from its list of essential products.”
“It is time for all countries to ban tobacco-related CSR activities,” she added.