Kenya has plans to increase taxes that are levied on tobacco products in order to reduce their use, says senior government official

NAIROBI, Kenya , May 30, 2014 () – Kenya has plans to increase taxes that are levied on tobacco products in order to reduce its use, a senior government official said on Friday.

Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia told journalists in Nairobi that the move will help to deter use of tobacco and is not primarily a revenue raising measure.

"Our estimates indicate that health and socioeconomic costs of tobacco is three times what the industry generates for the country, " Macharia said during commemorations to mark the World No Tobacco Day.

The day has been set aside globally to highlight the devastating effects of tobacco use as well as exposure to second- hand smoke.

"We therefore can't equate the negative consequences of tobacco to earnings by the industry," he said.

He noted that studies have indicated that a ten percent increase in the price of tobacco results in an eight percent reduction in their consumption.

"In addition the tax increase will generate revenue for Kenya which should be allocated for tobacco control," Macharia said. The cabinet secretary said that tobacco taxes are less than 50 percent of the retail price.

"We want to achieve a 70 percent rate in the next five years," he said. He added that tobacco should be made unaffordable and inaccessible to youth and the poor who are the most vulnerable population.

Health Principal Secretary Fred Sigor said that tobacco use is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases including cancers, heart disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases.

"These diseases are currently responsible for 50 percent of in- patient deaths and more than 60 percent of out-patient consultations," Sigor said.

He added that tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death globally. The PS said that tobacco related diseases are also costly to diagnose and treat.

"They often result in long term suffering to those affected, besides placing a huge psychological and economic burden on households and society at large," he said.

"Regrettably, tobacco products are still cheap in Kenya even for those in the low and middle income brackets," he added.

World Health Organization (WHO) Kenya Country Representative Custodia Mandlhate said that Kenya has done a lot in the field of preventing tobacco use through its tax structure.

She added that WHO will continue to support the Kenyan government's efforts in designing an effective tobacco taxation policy.

"They should tackle the dual goals of tobacco use reduction and revenue generation," he said.

Mandlhate said that the United Nations calls on countries to raise taxes on tobacco in order to encourage users to stop.

Mandlhate said that raising tobacco tax has been proven to have a positive impact on lowering the consumption. "This will help to reduce the mortality, disability and morbidity from tobacco use," Mandlhate said.

Ministry of Health Head of Preventive Health Services William Maina said that Kenya has already implemented the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

This was achieved through the Tobacco Control Act of 2007. "The law is assisting Kenya to integrate tobacco control into the health care systems," he said.

"We have also banned smoking in public places in order to reduce exposure to tobacco smoke," he said. Maina added that early interventions will help to address the issue of tobacco dependence.

Ministry of Health Head of Tobacco Control Unit Dorcas Kiptui said that Kenya is currently implementing the tobacco National Action Plan.

International Institute for Legislative Affairs Research Officer Kennedy Kirui said that there are currently 30,000 small scale tobacco farmers cultivating on 15,000 hectares of land.

Kirui said that tobacco smoking remains a big and growing problem in Kenya. He added that all tobacco products should be taxed equally in order to prevent users from switching brands.

"The government should avoid incentives for the tobacco industry to reduce prices so that they lower their tax rate," Kirui said.

(c) 2014 Xinhua News Agency

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