14 Aug 2009
Updated 26/6/2016 – Rachel Kitonyo is no longer Executive Director of the Institute for Legislative Affairs.
Tobacco has Rachel Kitonyo hooked. But not on the disease causing substance, rather the process of pushing tobacco control in Kenya.
Rachel’s addiction began when she formed the Institute for Legislative Affairs (ILA) in 2004. She began working as the ILA’s executive director and started lobbying the Kenyan government to enact tobacco control legislation.
Since the legislation was enacted in 2007, Rachel has continued to push tobacco control in her country.
“The process of lobbying for the Tobacco Control Act hooked me to tobacco control,” she said. “Initially I thought the ILA’s involvement with the issue would stop once the bill was enacted into law but now that I am passionate about tobacco control the ILA is continuing to run various tobacco control programs, and even build staff capacity in that area.”
Rachel said the legislation enactment represented a victory for health over profit.
“The Act was stuck in parliament for over 10 years because the tobacco industry had been lobbying hard,” She said. “The tobacco industry was saying the legislation would be bad for the country’s economy due to job losses and reduced government revenue.”
However, Rachel says that the MPs who took part in the debate in parliament prioritized the need to protect public health. “Kenya has now become one of the leaders in Africa in tobacco control,” she said.
This success has continued on for Rachel, the ILA and tobacco control in Africa. In May 2009, Rachel received a Judy Wilkenfeld award for International Tobacco Control Excellence.
The awards are run by US based The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) and recognize international tobacco control advocates who contribute significantly to reducing tobacco use.
Before Rachel was with the ILA, she worked to reduce tobacco’s toll on humanity for more than 20 years and played an integral role in the development and adoption of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), and the emergence of the Framework Convention Alliance.
The push for tobacco control legislation in Kenya has also lead the ILA on to building positive relationships with Kenya’s ministry for health, and as a result the ILA is training government enforcement officers to enforce the Act.
Later this year, the ILA will launch a Journalists Against Tobacco forum to help journalists understand the issues related to tobacco control so they can report stories without the bias of the tobacco industry influencing them.
The ILA is also building relationships with Christian, Muslim and Hindu religious leaders throughout Kenya.
“Since 90 per cent of Kenyans are religious with about 60 per cent regularly attending a religious service, this is one way of carrying out public education and awareness,” Rachel said. “We speak to these leaders at their various forums and seek audience through them with their congregations to get support for tobacco control measures and educate them on the dangers of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.”
However, the ILA’s work is far from over and Rachel says that although Kenya has signed and ratified the FCTC, and enacted legislation to domesticate it, the legislation still needs to be enforced and implemented.
“Statistics indicate rising smoking prevalence among young people. In addition, cases of illness from tobacco use are rising especially non-communicable diseases and cancer,” Rachel said.
According to Rachel, the economic toll from tobacco use, the poverty among tobacco growing communities in Kenya and the environmental degradation caused by tobacco farming all need to be addressed if Kenya is to meet its development goals.
To help address these crucial issues, Rachel says “The ILA will continue in the development of tobacco control policy and legislation in Kenya as well as monitor implementation and enforcement of tobacco control measures.”
About the ILA, visit the organization’s website