This article discusses vaping in Kenya and highlights opinions of tobacco control and public health experts who note that Kenyan youths are too keen on following trends without question so long as it appears cool to them. They beckon on Kenyan youths to for now, “allow science to give the green light” else they risk potentially damaging their bodies.

Vaping Culture Stirs Smoke Of Controversy

November 15, 2019


One of the most popular, socially tolerable and favourite drugs is nicotine. And as such, people have experimented all manner of ways to consume it.

Flipping through popular social media platforms, you will find young ladies and gentlemen blowing up some smoke. In their hands, a miniature contraption that can easily be mistaken for a flash disk or a new technology device.

These are the new generation of e-cigarettes, also known as vaporisers or vapes on the street. They are no longer designed to mimic the exterior of a traditional cigarettes but to fit in with the new age of tech devices that are in the market.

Many devices have been invented to satisfy this obsession hookahs and bongs, and now, the vapes.

In Kenya, the vaping trend has risen, especially with the shisha ban at the end of 2017. The different flavours available in the market make vaping enjoyable. Also, rechargeable and refillable kits can save a lot of money in the long-term.

Charlene, a Kenyan, was an avid shisha smoker, before it was banned. She loved the head rush that came with it, and more so, the different flavours she could experiment with. She would go to lounges after work. And when the cravings got intense over the weekends, she would hit the club just for it.

“I was so frustrated in the weeks following the ban. The cravings I had made me realise how hooked I was to the drug.” She says.

This was despite her reading and being informed of all the negative effects that shisha had.

Then she heard about vaporisers. “I was in awe! Finally, here was something that could satisfy my thirst. If I could call it that,” she says laughing. “And better yet, it’s portable, meaning I can smoke at any time of my convenience!”

So with this, Charlene made her first purchase of a vaping kit, which still excites her to date.

Alex, another vape user, on the other hand, was a cigarette addict. His family and friends went out of their way to have interventions for him with no success.

“I used to do a minimum three cigarettes a day- and this on a work day. You can imagine how much I smoked over the weekends when out of the office.”

That was until one of his cousins visited from the UK. Being a frequent user, his cousin did not leave his vape behind.

“I got around to trying the vaporiser when my cousin stayed with us. I got the same high, only now was it less dangerous, according to the extensive research I did. My cousin just had to leave the vaporiser with me when he left,” he laughs.

And that’s how his cigarette intake reduced. These days, he only takes one, and only when he is buzzed from alcohol on a night out. To him, vaping changed his habits.

James Mumo started his online business Fancy Puffs three years ago after moving back to Kenya from the United Kingdom.

“I noticed that vaping was not yet popular in Kenya as it was back in the UK, so I decided to seize the opportunity. The business is purely online. However, we leased a warehouse to store and fulfil orders for our clients,” he says.

And to date, James says, the demand for the vapes is quite high, but mostly among the middle and high income classes. Additionally, his market is for smokers who want to reduce their tobacco intake.

“We sell e-cigarette starter kits, box kits, vape mods as well and we source them the UK and others from United States from authorised distributors, ” he adds.

Vape kits in Kenya range in prices to suit beginners and advanced users. They can go as low as Sh3,000 and as high as Sh12,000.

The prices of vape juices, on the other hand, vary according to size. This is the same as the vape accessories. Flavours can include apple, watermelon, orange, and coffee, among tens of others, which are almost similar to shisha flavours.

In data from BBC, Market research group Euromonitor estimates that the number of adults who vape will reach almost 55 million by 2021. The number of vapers has been increasing rapidly - from about seven million in 2011 to 41 million in 2018.

Majority of these vapers are based in the United States, UK and France which spent more than Sh1 trillion on vapes.

Vapes, though originally aimed at helping cigarette addicts to get over their addiction by providing a regulated hit of nicotine have also become a challenge for human health. They have been linked with cases of death and lung illnesses.

BBC further reported that there have been six deaths and 450 reported cases of lung illness tied to vaping across 33 states. Many of the 450 reported cases are young people, with an average age of 19. This led to an announcement by US president Donald Trump that his administration would ban flavoured e-cigarettes.

But Kenyan vapers have ignored the negative effects of vaping, despite increasing reports by health organisations and health experts.

So how exactly does vaping work?

It works by heating the vaping liquid inside the vaper, which turns into an inhalable aerosol, vapour or steam.

There are various types of vaping devices categorised as; first generation vapers, which look exactly like traditional cigarettes, second generation vapers which are larger, often pen-shaped and rechargeable and finally third generation vapers which have the largest capacity, have customisable batteries and are refillable.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration, there are at least 60 chemical compounds found in e-liquids and after combustion even more harmful compounds are present in the aerosol inhaled.

These compounds, according to the FDA’s findings, are known to be safe only for oral consumption not for inhalation. When mixed with these e-liquids or solvents that dissolve and deliver the drugs, they open a health and safety vortex on the effect of these compounds on consumers due to lack of research on the effects of vaping.

The solvents, or oils, heat up to become vapour a process that is not free from risks because oil droplets may be left over as the liquid cools back down in the vaper. Inhaling those drops may cause breathing problems or lipoid pneumonia.

Extensive research on the long term effects of smoking traditional cigarettes decades ago conclusively proved that burning tobacco leaves emits carcinogens which cause respiratory problems among other complications to the user. Conversely, key players in the vaping industry have continuously defended vaping as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes. However, “safer” is not synonymous with risk free since e-cigarettes present their own unique set of health concerns, experts say, partly due to nicotine and other harmful products.

“There are too many loopholes and not enough research on the long term effects of vaping. It is a very grey area in the field of medical research so for now people should be cautious,” Dr Edward Maina.

“Kenyan youths are too keen on following trends without question so long as it’s the cool thing to do,” he explains while sipping his coffee. “For now I would urge Kenyans just as Californian authorities are shouting from the rooftops, ‘Stop now!’ Let us allow science to give the green light before potentially damaging our bodies,” said Dr Maina.

Source: Business Daily