The estimated more than twenty-two million smokers of the multi-billion shillings tobacco products may be purchasing the cheapest Rooster at Kshs. 5 to smoke their way to death with the eruption of the deadly Covid 19 disease.
The worst aspect of the whole problem is the fact that as one of the most highly taxed products in the country, hundreds of thousands of smokers right from Nairobi all the way to all corners of the country are in the habit of sharing a Khs. 5 cigarette stick.
That single stick can be shared with as many as five people and if just one of them is infected with the coronavirus it means high possibilities of spreading the virus to each and everyone who has savoured it at a cost of Kshs. 5 when the cheapest testing of that disease in the country is reported to be Kshs. 8, 000.
Leave alone the expenditures any of them testing positive will have to folk out during the 14 days quarantine and treatment to cure the Covid 19 disease that is wreaking havoc on economies and human life not only in Kenya but across the world at colossal expense.
Apart from the cheapest Kshs. Rooster brand and Supermatch, others like Safari (Pall Mall), is the second cheapest costing Kshs. 10 per stick or Kshs. 200 per packet, the rest like Sportsman, Rothmans, Dunhill, Embassy, Sweet Menthol, and Benson and Hedges goes for Kshs. 300 or more per packet.
All these brands in neighbouring countries cost half the above mentioned retail prices because of low or no taxation levels but cigarette smoking habits the same while in Kenya they are not spared tax increases every financial year including popular alcoholic beverages sometimes twice to raise government revenue.
However, with the explosion of Covid 19 in the country and government control measures declared and effected from March this year, among the prohibitions declared there is none concerning smoking or the widespread multi-individual sharing of a cigarette sticks across the country.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has already warned that smokers are at the biggest risk of being infected and killed from the disease because it not only largely causes lung cancer, but also lung respiratory problems which makes them easy fodder for Covid 19 infections and higher rates of death.
Many of the stick sharing smokers interviewed said that the cigarettes were too expensive and the money has become extremely scarce to access especially since the eruption of the Covid 19 and stringent lockdowns being executed to stop its spread – it means more and more people sharing a single cigarette stick with deadly costly implications and consequences.
Mr. Gregory Nyaberi a Nairobi based businessman who has been smoking for the last 25 years said: “Times are extremely difficult to access enough money to meet my own domestic needs to survive, but worse to fulfill my nasty smoking habit, in these hard times we share cigarettes to quench our thirsts and being addictive it is an extremely difficult habit to stop though nasty.”
Mr. Nyaberi said that himself and his colleagues who share cigarette sticks obey the Covid 19 spread orders like wearing masks, social distancing, not shaking hands, groupings, meetings and even curfew government orders but not on smoking or sharing cigarettes risks that may cost direct infection from coronavirus infected fingers and cigarette butts direct to the smokers’ lips and lungs on inhalation – the virus will be transmitted.
He argued that apart from closing bars and restaurants to sell alcohol and food to consumers, nothing has been said about sharing a smoke with colleagues so long as they are wearing masks and social distancing.
These sentiments were expressed by smokers not only in Nairobi County, but also including those in the former Coast, Eastern, North Eastern, Central, Rift Valley, Nyanza and Western provinces.
It is not just a Kenyan problem as the threats do not stop there since the British American Tobacco (BAT) a wide range tobacco products producing global conglomerate said: “Our product portfolio comprises a range of high quality and innovative products, including cigarettes (combustible products) and cut – rug tobacco (unprocessed tobacco) which serve markets in East and Central Africa (ECA).”
Its website report goes on to state that: “Our cigarette brand portfolio includes our local heritage brand Sportsman, which has been in the market for over 85 years and is sold in various Eastern Africa markets including Kenya, Uganda, and Somalia.”
It says that this is alongside other iconic brands such as Embassy, SM, Rooster and Safari. Our portfolio also includes a strong repertoire of global brands including Dunhill, Benson & Hedges and Rothmans, which are sold in over 200 markets worldwide including East and Central Africa and that is how big the problem can be in this region alone from the rich to the poor.
The BAT Kenya Limited alone last financial report posted a drop in net profits from Kshs. 4.1 billion in 2018 to Kshs. 3.9 billion at the close of financial year that ended 31st December, 2019.
The cigarette manufacturing conglomerate blamed the newly introduced excise tax on tobacco for the drop in sales and profitability. It said gross profit reduced despite the significant revenue growth and reduced financing costs.
As activity at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) as at the end of that year, the BAT shares were trading at Kshs. 485.00 each, a 3%drop from the price at the start of the year.
However since the eruption of the Covid 19 in China last year the WHO has reported: “Smokers are likely to contract the virus as the act of smoking means that fingers and possibly contaminated cigarettes are in contact with lips.
Since it increases the possibility of transmitting the virus from the hand to mouth besides those smokers may also already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity which would greatly increase risk of serious illness.”
The UN agency states that apart from cigarettes, smoking products such as water pipes often involve the sharing of mouthpieces and hoses, which could facilitate the transmission of Covid-19 in communal and social settings.
Given the adverse effect on respiratory health, the current Covid-19 pandemic is seen as an opportunity for both smokers and vapers to quit.
The Nacada has already reported that about 2.2 million Kenyans still use tobacco products including sharing them. Globally, 1.12 billion people are smokers. It says that 8.6 per cent of Kenya’s 47.5 million people uses tobacco products and are largely male.
About 17 percent of males are current users of tobacco products compared with 2.1 per cent of females. It is unclear whether this explains why the rate of infection of Covid-19 in the country is higher among men than women.