Respite for tobacco firms as court puts brakes on new rules

By BRIAN NGUGI, [email protected]

Kenyan cigarette makers and traders have been saved from immediately implementing tough new tobacco law after the Court of Appeal issued a 30-day stay order and the State allowed dealers time to sell old stocks till end of next month.

The stringent tobacco control rules were supposed to come into effect last Monday with industry players forecasting huge losses as old inventories were yet to be relabelled.

Industry figures show an estimated 59,000 traders engage in the tobacco business countrywide.

Besides requiring new cigarette packs to display graphic health warnings, the regulation prohibit sale of single cigarette sticks and only allows that of full packets.

Wholesalers and traders are also expected to display prominent signage warnings on the dangers of tobacco use at points of sale.

“We give an order for stay of the implementation and an operation of the Tobacco Control Regulation 2014 LN 169 of 2014 for a period of 30 days with effect from the date hereof to facilitate the effectual hearing of the substantive appeal,” said Court of Appeal Judges E M Githinji, H M Okwengu and J Mohammed on Thursday last week.

However, this breathing space could be temporary as the Court of Appeal could still rule against the appeal by Tobacco companies against the High Court ruling that declared the rules valid in March.

A spot check by the Business Daily last week revealed a majority of distributors still hold large stocks of cigarettes with packaging that would be outlawed by the new rules.

On Tuesday, traders expressed relief over the stay orders.

“We are relieved and hope they will pave way for a structured dialogue on the implementation of the rules,” said Nairobi-based cigarette trader Patrick Ndirangu.

Traders had expressed fears that they would be unable dispose of old stocks before the new laws take effect.

Retail Trade Association of Kenya CEO Wambui Mbarire had earlier said: “There is a need to extend the implementation period to ensure exhaustion of stock.”

The government had vowed to effect the rules without fail but has since changed tune.

An earlier letter sent to all County Public Health Officers and County Police Commanders bearing the signature of the Public Health Director and Tobacco Control Board Secretary Kepha Ombacho also said the Health ministry has granted a window period of one month from effective date to allow cigarette stocks (with the outlawed packaging) in the market to get sold out.

“For purposes of smooth transition the old stock may continue in the market up to 31 October 2016,” said the document copied to tobacco companies dated September 1.

The Health ministry had earlier said in a public notice that all Kenyans and tobacco firms are bound by the new rules and those flouting them would be punished.

“The Ministry of Health has released the digital device containing the first batch of pictorial health warnings that will run from September 26 to December 31, 2016. The second batch of pictorial health warnings that will run from January 1 to December, 31, 2017 will be dispatched to you shortly,” said Health secretary Cleopa Mailu in the notice.

Ms Mbarire though had said few traders were aware of the new rules.

“In preparation for implementation of this regulation we have been talking to our members and realised that a significant percentage are not aware of the regulation. From our interactions it is evident that there is need for more communication from the tobacco board and the association to ensure that there are no grey areas and any chances of harassment and irregularities,” she said.

On Monday Anti-tobacco health campaigners led by the International Institute for Legislative Affairs head Emma Wanyonyi expressed disappointment at the stay orders.

“We are disappointed about the delay in implementing the regulations,” she said.