The story of Kenya’s first smoke-free town

Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance/Fred Odhiambo
Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance/Fred Odhiambo

On 22 February 2007 the Nakuru Municipality Council by-law to bring about smoke-free public places was approved and it became operational on 5 April 2007, making Nakuru the first town in Kenya and the wider East African Region to ban smoking in public places. It preceded and was superseded by the national Tobacco Control Act, which came into effect throughout Kenya on 8 July 2008.

The by-law comprehensively prohibited smoking in public and work places and extended to prohibiting smoking on streets. It required the owner of a public place to make provision for an outdoor “smoking zone” or an area but smoking zones were not permitted indoors. This means that the by-law was more protective than the subsequent Tobacco Control Act.

Fact file: Nakuru, Kenya

Population: 1.4m

Smokers (nationally): Male: 23% Female: 1%

Key actions

Actions to secure the by-law for Nakuru and to implement it included:

  • A series of consultations, over six months, with an array of key stakeholders.
  • Efforts by the Council and NGOs to raise awareness of the by-law and the reasons for it – including exploitation of earned media.
  • Setting up and training a 150-strong compliance inspection force, comprising Public Health, Environmental and Police Officers. Impact

Impact

  • Citizens’ exposure to secondhand smoke was greatly reduced after the by-law took effect. Cigarettes butts became very rare and, because smoking was controlled, the city became cleaner.
  • The people of Nakuru have become aware of the dangers of tobacco and its products.
  • Following in Nakuru’s footsteps, several other municipalities have also imposed bans on smoking including Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya.
  • It can also be argued that Nakuru’s pioneering played a role in helping to push the legislative process in the Kenyan Parliament during the enactment of Tobacco Control Act 2007.

Lessons learnt

  • Political and civil society support is important in securing the adoption and implementation of smoke-free legislation.
  • The speedy preparation of the intervention and its quick passage through the municipal legislative process made it difficult for the tobacco industry or smoking groups to organize an effective response.
  • Sensitisation of key leaders through visits to and learning about the smoke-free experience elsewhere can inspire local action.
  • The signing of the FCTC by Kenya provided a supportive legislative context.
  • Corruption can undermine enforcement procedures and smoke-free legislation.
  • Enforcement teams need to be properly resourced. When courts are involved in prosecutions, they need the capacity to operate effectively.
  • The Nakuru experience provides valuable lessons for other larger African cities seeking to implement similar laws.
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