Smoke in public at own peril, Health minister now cautions

Friday, December 27th, 2019 00:00 |
Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki (centre)serves cake to paediatric cancer patients at Kenyatta National Hospital last week, for early Christmas. Photo/PD/John Ochieng

You will soon be arrested and prosecuted for smoking in public places, Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki has warned. 

Citing a Supreme Court of Kenya ruling that, among other things, bans tobacco smoking in streets, bars, disco halls and residential houses, Kariuki said implementation of the Tobacco Control Regulations, 2014, has now taken shape after the court decision. 

Kariuki, speaking at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) after visiting children fighting cancer at the facility, termed the court ruling a catalyst to Kenya’s attainment of Universal Health Coverage by 2022 through reduced smoking-related deaths and illnesses in Kenya.

“I appreciate that we have recently had a landmark ruling which makes smoking in public punishable by law.

The Tobacco Control Act, 2007, is now bringing issues of prevention to a practical position which is a key element in the implementation of Universal Health Coverage,” she said. 

“Any person who smokes in a prohibited smoking area commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding fifty thousand shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to both,” part of the regulations read.

The regulations, made pursuant to Section 53 of the Tobacco Control Act, 2007, seek to regulate various aspects of the tobacco sector in Kenya relating to the manufacture, sale and advertising of tobacco products. 

The cited Supreme Court ruling means the government can implement the Tobacco Control Regulations 2014 without hindrance.

Last month, the apex court dismissed an appeal case filed by a multinational tobacco company challenging tobacco regulations that had been published by the Ministry of Health in 2014.

The 2014 regulations were meant to come into force on June 5, 2015, but the British American Tobacco Kenya Ltd (BAT), contested the matter in court and obtained interim orders restraining government from implementing the rules pending the hearing and determination of the petition. 

Reduce pollution

A Supreme Court Bench comprising Chief Justice David Maraga, his deputy Philomena Mwilu, Justices Jackton Ojwang’, Smokin Wanjala and Njoki Ndung’u found an earlier Court of Appeal decision proper and declined a request by BAT to delay implementation of regulations by another six months. 

Court of Appeal judges Hannah Okwengu, Festus Azangalala and Fatuma Sichale had on March 24, 2016 upheld the regulations, saying their implementation does not violate the Constitution.

The laws now require cigarette manufacturers to publish large graphical and textual health warnings on the cigarette packages. Manufacturers must also disclose all the ingredients in tobacco products.

Kariuki singled out pollution as the biggest contributor to deaths in the country and revealed that the government, through different ministries, is working towards reducing all forms of pollution countrywide. 

According to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report 2018, at least 165 Kenyans die daily due to air pollution and poor sanitation. 

Mortality rate

“Mortality rate attributed to household and ambient air pollution is 78 people in a population of 100,000 and deaths attributed to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene services being 51.2 in the same population,” the report revealed.

Going by the UNDP rate, with a population of 47 million, Kenya annually loses at least 36,660 people due to air pollution with another 23,970 dying from poor sanitation. This sums annual deaths to over 60,000.

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