A research group from the University of Nairobi’s Faculty of Medicine, has found that that Kenya are choosing unregulated and potentially dangerous tobacco and traditional oral stimulants, despite safer alternatives being available on the market.
A new report titled “Review of the risks and toxicants of smokeless tobacco, areca nut and khat products available in Kenya” is a first major analysis of the health risks of traditional tobacco and oral stimulants available in Kenya.
The research compares the risk profile of traditional tobacco and different oral stimulants used by Kenyans that are available through legal and unregulated channels. It found that users who choose modern and science-backed tobacco-free nicotine products like, pouches and nicotine replacement therapies had the lowest exposure risk to cancer-causing chemicals.
“The high use of traditional tobacco and unregulated oral stimulants in Kenya that have little or no quality control in terms of levels of toxicants or psychoactive ingredients is very concerning. While there are alternative, modern, less risky and regulated alternatives available on the market, transition to these products is unfortunately very slow,” commented Dr Michael Kariuki, lead researcher of the report.
Key research findings include:
- One in five men use tobacco in Kenya, putting them at high risk of multiple cancers and cardiovascular disease.
- 4.1% of adults use khat and 3.6% of adults use chewing tobacco, snuff, pan, or gutkha. These products are potentially high risk to physical health with little or no quality control in terms of levels of toxicants or psychoactive ingredients.
- Samples of traditional chewing tobaccos have been found to be contaminated with heroin, marijuana and other illicit drugs.
- Modern tobacco-free nicotine products, like pouches and nicotine replacement therapies expose users to lower levels of toxicants and are therefore comparatively less risky.
The research showed that the risk profile of modern tobacco-free nicotine products was found to be significantly lower than other traditional tobacco and oral products. Well-known carcinogenic toxicants including nitrosamines, radionuclides, aflatoxins) are not detectable in modern tobacco-free nicotine products.
Commenting on the reduced risk profile of nicotine replacement therapies and pouches, Dr Kariuki stated: “Rather than being a source of harm like traditional tobacco and oral products, modern tobacco-free nicotine alternatives have the opportunity to reduce smoking-related disease. It’s important that current and future regulatory frameworks recognise that these products are comparatively low risk.”
The report includes several recommendations, including carrying out an in-depth analysis of the ingredients and toxicants in imported and locally produced smokeless tobacco, areca nut and khat products. It also called on regulators to investigate the presence of other drugs in locally produced products.
“What is clear from this research is that about 7.7% of Kenyans are using unregulated products that pose a high risk to their health. there is urgent need for more research into the different risk profiles of these products and the impact they have on our communities,” said Dr Michael Kariuki.
Speaking at the event, Joseph Magero, representative of Tobacco Harm Reduction Kenya said, “We should be making much greater efforts to encourage Kenyans to use lower risk products, such as tobacco-free nicotine pouches. Not only do they reduce their exposure to cancer-causing chemicals but they provide a viable alternative to the millions of tobacco-users in our country.”