In October last year, interventions by tobacco control advocates compelled the government to reclassify Lyft as a tobacco product.

Kenya is among the top 10 countries worldwide that implemented tobacco control measures this year as industry players took advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to gain influence and undermine health policies.

The index by STOP, the global tobacco industry watchdog, shows that regionally, Kenya took ninth position after Uganda which came fifth.

Tanzania trailed at number 66. The Dominican Republic, Switzerland, Japan, Indonesia and Georgia claimed the last five spots.

The Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2021 released on November 2 analyzed 80 countries and shows that Brunei, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France and Uganda ranked best overall.

“No country was immune to the industry’s efforts to use lobbying and donations, often connected to pandemic response, to its advantage,” the report stated.

The STOP report documents the efforts by different governments in implementing the World Health Organization (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 sanitize 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.

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“The industry’s behavior during Covid-19 wasn’t just business as usual—this research suggests it’s been far worse in terms of scale and impact,” said Dr Mary Assunta, lead author of the index.

Further, the report shows 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, however, decried the laxity shown by many countries to implement tobacco laws.

In Kenya for example, cigarette maker British American Tobacco was initially allowed by the country’s Pharmacy and Poisons Board to register Lyft,  the firm’s oral nicotine pouch product which would classify it as a drug and ultimately shielding it from tobacco regulations but this was revoked.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.

The report says that in March 2021, through a Special Issue of the Kenya Gazette Supplement, the government dropped tobacco products from its list of essential products.

In Tanzania, 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.”

“It is time for all countries to ban tobacco-related CSR activities,” added Dr Assunta.

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