On May 4th, 2020, Kenya became the 59th country to ratify the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products. The Protocol is an international treaty aimed at combating the illicit tobacco trade through an array of measures including supply chain control, offense prosecution, and international cooperation. Illicit trade makes tobacco products more available and affordable, and deprives the governments of over $40 billion a year in revenue. Therefore, effective Protocol implementation is critical for the success of global tobacco control.

Kenya has a solid track record in combating illicit cigarette trade, among the best of middle-income countries. By 2010, the country introduced digital tax stamps, required licensing of tobacco manufacturers, launched an electronic cargo tracing system and established tax enforcement units. Additionally, in 2014, Kenya introduced a tracking and tracing system, which enabled monitoring of the movements of legal tobacco products and helped authorities, store owners and smokers to quickly determine if a tobacco product on the market is licit or illicit. The Kenyan Revenue Authority estimates that the illicit cigarette trade market share declined from 15% in 2003 to 5% in 2016, a direct result of the implemented measures. The Protocol ratification will help Kenya’s further efforts in combating illicit tobacco product trade, by enhancing the country’s abilities in international information sharing and law enforcement cooperation as well as by enabling the country to participate in development of the best practice guidelines for the Protocol implementation in the coming years.

Perhaps more importantly, Kenya’s Protocol ratification is an essential step on the road to the successful global implementation of the Protocol. So far, the Protocol’s experience in combating illicit trade and capacity to accelerate exiting efforts was coming largely, but not exclusively, from the high-income, European members to the Protocol. Those countries, however, potentially lacked the understanding of issues in combating illicit trade that are specific to a low- and middle-income country setting. Kenya, a lower-middle income, Sub-Saharan country with a strong practice in combating illicit trade in tobacco products can teach many lessons to other, less-experienced Protocol Parties, as well as to many higher capacity countries. Kenya’s know-how is a precious addition to a combined pool of knowledge among the Protocol Parties. With this new member, the Protocol becomes an even better tool for fulfilling the broad development goals of good health, well-being, justice, strong institutions, and global partnerships.

By Michal Stoklosa

Cover photo credit: MEAACT