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Tobacco use among the Kenyan youth alarmingly high

Preliminary findings of a study being conducted by the Kenya Tobacco Board on the use of tobacco and its products in four counties have shown that tobacco use among the youth in higher learning institutions is higher than in any age group. This threatens to claw back on the achievements made so far to protect Kenyans from the harmful effects of tobacco.

Speaking during the commemoration of the “world no tobacco day” marked at the University of Nairobi on May 31st, 2022, the Principal Secretary for Health Susan Mochache quoted the findings which show that 36 percent of Kenyan youth use tobacco compared to 11 percent of adults.

“An ongoing study by the Kenya Tobacco Board, focusing on four counties; Kisumu, Nakuru, Mombasa, and Nairobi Counties which was commissioned in March 2022, indicates three out of 10 youths use tobacco, and the majority of them are either university or college students. This is the reason why the University of Nairobi was chosen as the venue to mark the “world no tobacco day” in Kenya”, said the PS.

The high rate of tobacco use among the youth has been brought about by the rise of alternative tobacco products which are smokeless and attractive to the youth such as e-cigarettes, oral nicotine products, synthetic nicotine, heat-not-burn, and concept flavors.

These products appeal to the preferences of the youth that seem fashionable, thus most young people who use tobacco products have reported that they were introduced to tobacco products by their friends. According to the study findings, six out of 10 respondents were introduced to the use of tobacco by their friends and peers. 1,600 respondents were involved.

There is a lurking danger of children being exposed to the use of tobacco products. Children as young as seven years old are being introduced to tobacco. This worsens the already grave situation of tobacco use among the youth with more than half of them risking losing their lives at their prime age hence robbing the nation of its productive workforce.

The study has also shown that easy accessibility to tobacco products like cigarettes and others that are being sold illegally are among the leading reasons why the usage of tobacco has been rampant in spite of the spirited efforts being expended to eliminate tobacco use.

The PS noted that there is a need to bolster awareness programs against the use of tobacco as a huge population, about 46.3% has no access to such programs. However, she noted the sensitization programs are at their tipping point, and with more concerted efforts they can attain the desired impact as slightly more than half of the respondents, 53.7%, indicated that they have access to awareness programs.

The STEPwise Survey for Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) risk factors in Kenya conducted by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics supported by the WHO indicates that tobacco use is the main preventable cause of death in Kenya.

Annually, 9,000 deaths in Kenya are linked to causes that are related to tobacco use and thousands of people left severely sick and on the brink of death. Tobacco is also one of the four risk factors alarmingly increasing the burden of NCDs in the country.

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