The World Health Organization (WHO) has offered to provide technical assistance to the East African Community (EAC) member states to develop their capacity to implement policy changes in favour of tobacco control.

Speaking to journalists in Nairobi recently, WHO Kenya Country Representative Dr Custodia Mandlhate said tobacco use was emerging as a leading cause of preventable disease and premature death in the region.

“The EAC states are encouraged to increase taxes on tobacco so as to discourage and to prevent other people from being addicted to tobacco,” Mandlhate added. The WHO is supporting the EAC in the implementation of a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which was unanimously adopted by world states in 2003. T

he EAC partner states of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi are signatories to FCTC. The tobacco industry is aggressively targeting developing nations as their main and emerging markets for their products.

Kenya’s EAC Principal Secretary Mwanamaka Mabruki said that most policymakers and stakeholders were not familiar with the provisions of the FCTC as well as the obligations parties to this convention have.

“This state of affairs has resulted in conflicting positions by different sectors, hence threatening the cohesion the government has built on the implementation of the tobacco protocol,” Mabruki said.

Kenya is currently a bureau member of the AFRO region in the conference of parties to the FCTC. The country has also been recognized for implementing FCTC and is currently being built to be a centre of excellence in the region.

The treaty establishing the EAC recognizes the significance of co-operation in matters of health through joint action towards the prevention and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases. The objective is to attain the highest possible quality health standards for the economic bloc.

“However, due to lack of adequate capacity and infrastructure at both regional and country levels, the effective implementation of tobacco control has been a challenge,” the Kenyan official said. “As a such, tobacco control is still seen as a health sector initiative and not a whole government initiative,” he noted.

There are a number of time-bound obligations spelt out in the FCTC that the EAC partner states have only partially accomplished. Kenya’s Tobacco Control Board Chairperson Professor Peter Odhiambo said that tax and price policies were one of the most effective means of influencing demand and therefore consumption of tobacco products.

“If adopted, they will go a long way to reducing tobacco morbidity, mortality and the socio-economic burden in the region,” he said.

The chairperson noted that while the tobacco industry contributes to the economy of the EAC member states, the toll of the cost of tobacco use in terms of death, disease and environmental impact vastly outweighed any economic benefit from the manufacture and sale of tobacco products.

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