Watch Out for Smokeless Tobacco and Nicotine

Do you know that your child could be consuming tobacco and nicotine products right under your nose? For parents, now is the time to watch out for smokeless tobacco and nicotine.

If you think the tobacco industry will go down without a fight, you are mistaken. Let me jog your memory before I tell you why parents and guardians need to remain extra vigilant.

In 1994, 7 American CEOs drawn from different tobacco companies faced the congressional subcommittee that was hearing about the impact of tobacco on health.

This is how the conversation went.

Rep. Ron Wyden asked, ” Do you believe nicotine is not addictive?” They all responded by saying that they did not believe that nicotine was addictive. Here is a video of what transpired those many moons ago.

The conversation rages on. Increasingly, the impact of nicotine on health remains evident in the number of people who suffer its consequences. And now, the tobacco industry has pulled another one from its bag of tricks.

Smokeless Tobacco
Individuals that do not use tobacco will commonly associate it with cigarettes, cigars, and tobacco pipes that produce smoke and are easy to spot and identify.

In a bid to address concerns about the health risks posed by combustible tobacco products, tobacco companies have recently introduced smokeless tobacco products that contain nicotine, one of the world’s most addictive substances.

An example of these products is nicotine pouches placed under the lip for it to be absorbed into the body. They do not contain tobacco.

They can however cause stomach upsets, hiccups, and a sore mouth for users, in addition to nicotine addiction.

This is what the industry has resulted to do so as to boost falling sales and target a large new market of trendy young users worldwide.

Despite being touted as relatively safe, smokeless tobacco products are still dangerous to human health.

According to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), consumption of smokeless tobacco products can lead to nicotine addiction, cancer of the mouth, the oesophagus, which is the passage that connects the throat to the stomach, and pancreas, that is a gland that helps with digestion and maintaining proper blood sugar levels.

“Smokeless tobacco products are also associated with diseases of the mouth. They can increase risks for early delivery and stillbirth when used during pregnancy and cause nicotine poisoning in children. Their use may also increase the risk for death from heart disease and stroke,” says the CDC.

Tobacco control officials and advocates are now asking Kenyan parents to be more vigilant in identifying novel tobacco and nicotine products that their children could be using without their knowledge.

According to tax and policy expert Karambu Muthaura, nicotine-laced products are passed off as electronic devices and imported into Kenya.

She said some customs officials may not be familiar with the design and purpose of some of the products, and may unknowingly allow them into the country at the ports of entry.

“Devices such as electronic cigarettes are labelled as electronics and sneaked into the country before being sold to learners among other customers,” said Ms Muthaura.

She said efforts of customs and port staff should be sensitized on the novel tobacco products so as to tax them appropriately and avoid the loss of revenue accrued from wrong classification.

Speaking in Nairobi, Mr Anthony Muthemba of the Nairobi County Tobacco Control Unit cautioned parents to be wary of novel smokeless tobacco products.

“The vapes and electronic cigarettes are attractively packaged in colours and designs that are unlikely to interest the attention and curiosity of parents, teachers and caregivers,” he told Afya Watch.

Mr Muthemba said the innocuously designed products can allow teenagers, college students and other young adults to inhale nicotine in the privacy of their rooms without attracting undue scrutiny from parents.

He said the new products included nicotine pouches, water pipes, snus or chewable tobacco and vape pens.

“The industry has come up with products that are disposable. For example, some vape pen brands come with a vaporizer and e-liquid that can give the user between 1,500-4,500 puffs before they are no longer usable,” said the tobacco control official.

Mr Muthemba said some of the vape pen brands on sale had been smuggled in as they were not meant to be sold in the country.

Speaking to Afya Watch, Mr , Samwel Ochieng of the Consumer Information Network (CIN) confirmed Mr Muthemba’s statements.

“The tobacco industry has opted for tastefully designed packaging for the new products, which was a deceptive method to lure teens into tobacco addiction,” said Mr Ochieng.

He explained that the tobacco industry had settled on an elaborate campaign to make the design of the new-generation products as tasteful as possible.

“It is a clever marketing ploy targeting the young users, who can then transition to cigarettes, cigars and other combustible tobacco products in adulthood,” he said.

On his part, Mr Steve Bala of the CIN says the tobacco industry’s interference continues to be the biggest threat to tobacco control regulations and their implementation.

“For sustainability of their business model, the tobacco industry seeks to trap young people in lifetime addiction. These products mostly target young people including schoolchildren and college students,” said Mr Bala.

It has not been a smooth ride for tobacco control efforts in the country despite the success of the regulations.

In 2019, BAT launched smoke-free nicotine pouches under the Lyft brand into the Kenyan market.

According to International Institute of Legal Affairs (IILA) chief executive Celine Awuor, the firm ignored the Tobacco Control Act 2007 and mysteriously got approval and licensing of this new product from the Pharmacy and Poisons Board, which is mandated to license medical products.

Advertising on Social Media
Mr Jasper Omwega, who chairs the city chapter of the NPA, said tobacco companies had found a way to bypass the strict film law set by The Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) by using popular apps like Facebook, Tiktok, Instagram and Snapchat to advertise products and promote tobacco consumption.

“Children increasingly have access to mobile phones and as they scroll through their video feeds, stories and reels, they are exposed to tobacco industry advertising,” which contravenes the Tobacco Control Act,” he said.

He called for tighter regulations around the kind of content that can be viewed by general audiences.

“We need to have a radical and wide-ranging re-framing of parameters on what children can watch,” said Mr Omwega.

Mr Onkundi believes that reforming the restriction labels for content should also include bans on content that promotes tobacco consumption to children, who are a young and impressionable audience.