Threats, bullying, lawsuits: tobacco industry’s dirty war for the African market

Revealed: In search of development in Africa, British American Tobacco yet others use intimidatory tactics to try to suppress health warnings and regulation

British American Tobacco (BAT) along with other multinational tobacco firms have threatened governments in a minimum of eight countries in Africa demanding they axe or dilute the type of protections which have saved countless lives in the western world, a Protector analysis finds.

BAT, among the worlds leading cigarette manufacturers, is fighting with the courts to try and block the Kenyan and Ugandan governments attempts to usher in rules to limit the injury brought on by smoking. The enormous tobacco firms aspire to grow their markets in Africa, with a fast-growing youthful and more and more prosperous population.

In a single undisclosed court document in Kenya, seen through the Protector, BATs lawyers demand the countrys high court quash in the whole a bundle of anti-smoking rules and rails against what it really calls a capricious tax plan. The situation has become prior to the top court after BAT Kenya lost within the high court and also the appeal court. A ruling is anticipated as soon as the following month.

Tobacco: a deadly business

BAT in Uganda asserts in another document the governments Tobacco Control Act is sporadic with as well as in contravention from the metabolic rate.

The Protector has additionally seen letters, including three by BAT, delivered to the governments of Uganda, Namibia, Togo, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso revealing the intimidatory tactics that tobacco information mill using, accusing governments of breaching their very own laws and regulations and worldwide trade contracts and warning of harm towards the economy.

BAT denies it’s against all tobacco regulation, but states it reserves the authority to ask the courts to intervene where it believes rules might not adhere to what the law states.

Later this month, BAT is anticipated to get the worlds greatest listed tobacco firm because it completes its purchase of the big US tobacco company Reynolds inside a $49bn deal, and you will find fears within the extent that big tobacco can financially outmuscle health ministries in poorer nations. A election around the deal by shareholders of both firms is a result of occur next Wednesday, concurrently working in london at BAT and New York at Reynolds.

Professor Peter Odhiambo, an old heart surgeon who’s mind from the governments Tobacco Control Board in Kenya, told the Protector: BAT has been doing around they are able to to bar us.

Experts say Africa and southern Asia are urgent new battlegrounds within the global combat smoking due to census and rising success. Despite declining smoking and much more controls in certain more potent countries, still it kills greater than seven million people globally each year, according to the WHO, and you will find fears the tactics of massive tobacco will effectively flourish in conveying the dying and injury to poorer nations.

You will find an believed 77 million smokers in Africa and individuals figures are predicted to rise by nearly 40% from 2010 levels by 2030, the largest forecasted such increase on the planet.

In Kenya, BAT has been successful in delaying rules to limit the promotion and purchase of any nicotine products for fifteen years, fighting through every degree of the legislation. In Feb it launched a situation within the top court which has already stopped the imposition of tobacco controls until most likely following the countrys general election in August, that are being contested by parliamentarians who’ve been associated with payments through the multinational company.

In Uganda, BAT launched law suit from the government in November, quarrelling the Tobacco Control Act, which grew to become law in 2015, contravenes the metabolic rate. It’s fighting limitations which are now commonplace in more potent countries, such as the growth of health warnings on packets and point-of-purchase displays, quarrelling they unfairly restrict its trade.

A legal court actions are introduced by BATs local affiliates, BAT Kenya and BAT Uganda, but approved at Globe House, the London headquarters from the multinational, which receives the majority of the profits in the African trade. In the 2016 annual report, BAT outlined the danger that not reasonable litigation could be introduced directly into control tobacco all over the world. Its response was an engagement and litigation strategy coordinated and aligned over the Group.

Concentrate on emerging markets

British packets of cigarettes, with stark warnings, beside packs from Africa. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

At its annual meeting in March, chairman Richard Burrows toasted a vintage year for BAT, as profits rose 4% to 5.2bn after investors took their cut their dividend had increased by 10%. When asked about the legal actions in Africa, he said tobacco was an industry that should be regulated … but we want to see that regulation is serving the correct interests of the health mission and human mission which should lie behind it.

So, from time to time its necessary for us to take legal action to challenge new regulation which he said was led by the local board.

BAT says it is simply not true that we oppose all tobacco regulation, particularly in developing countries. Tobacco should be appropriately regulated as a product that has risks to health, it said, but where there are different interpretations of whether regulations comply with the law, we think it is entirely reasonable to ask the courts to assist in resolving it. It was opposed to only a handful of the issues in Kenyas regulations, not the entirety, it said in a statement.

Although most countries in Africa have signed the World Health Organisation (WHO) treaty on tobacco control, none has yet fully implemented the smoking restrictions it endorses.

The WHO predicts that by 2025, smoking rates will go up in 17 of the 30 Africa-region countries from their 2010 level. In some countries a massive hike is expected in Congo-Brazzaville, from 13.9% to nearly half the population (47.1%) and in Cameroon from 13.7% to 42.7%. In Sierra Leone it will be 41.2% (74% among men) and in Lesotho 36.9%.

The tobacco industrys march on Africa

In comparison, research demonstrated this past year that just 16.9% of adults smoke in the UK and recently new figures demonstrated UK heart disease deaths had fallen 20% since that countrys indoor smoking ban.

The tobacco market is now turning its focus toward emerging markets in sub-Saharan Africa, trying to exploit the continents patchwork tobacco control rules and limited sources to combat industry marketing advances, stated Dr Emmanuela Gakidou and colleagues in the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in the College of Washington in San antonio, publishing an analysis of smoking prevalence all over the world within the Lancet in April.

Africas growing figures of kids and youthful people, and it is growing wealth, represent an enormous future marketplace for the tobacco industry. The businesses deny targeting children and can’t sell packs smaller sized than 10, but new research transported in Nairobi through the Johns Hopkins school of public health in america and also the Kenya-based Consumer Information Network found vendors selling cigarettes across the routes children decide to try walk to primary schools.

The proportion of smokers is expected to soar in Africas population

Stalls sell single Dunhill, Embassy, Safari along with other BAT cigarette sticks, costing around 4p (5 cents) each, alongside sweets, biscuits and fizzy drinks. The vendors split the packets of 20 made by BAT. They’re targeting children, stated Samuel Ochieng, leader from the Consumer Information Network. They mix cigarettes with candies then sell across the school pathways.

BAT stated that it is products were for adult smokers only which would much prefer that stalls offered whole packets instead of single sticks, given our purchase of the brands and also the fact you will find obvious health warnings around the packs.

Around the globe, we’ve very strict rules regarding not selling our products to retailers located near schools. BAT Kenya provides support to a number of these independent vendors, including supplying stalls colored in non-corporate colours, and supplying youth smoking prevention and health warnings messages. We educate vendors to make sure they don’t sell cigarettes and tobacco products near schools.

Links with politicians

Cigarettes on sale (alongside sweets) in Nairobi, Kenya. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

The Kenya case, expected to be heard after the elections on 8 August, is seen as critical for the continent. If the government loses, other countries will have less appetite for the long and expensive fight against the wealthy tobacco industry.

BAT has around 70% of the Kenyan market; its Kenyan competitor, Mastermind, has joined in the legal action against the government.

Concerns have been raised about links between politicians and the tobacco companies. There are allegations of some of them having been bribed in the past, said Joel Gitali, chief executive of the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance.

BAT whistleblower Paul Hopkins, who worked in Africa for BAT for 13 years, told a British newspaper he paid bribes on the companys behalf to the Kenya Revenue Authority for access to information BAT could use against its Kenyan competitor, Mastermind. Hopkins has also alleged links between certain prominent opposition Kenyan politicians and two tobacco companies, BAT Kenya and Mastermind. Hopkins, who says he alerted BAT to the documents before the company made him redundant, claimed BAT Kenya paid bribes to government officials in Burundi, Rwanda and the Comoros Islands to undermine tobacco control regulations. Gitali is concerned about the outcome of the election: If the opposition takes over government we shall be deeply in the hands of the tobacco companies.

BAT denies any wrongdoing. A spokesperson said: We will not tolerate improper conduct in our business anywhere in the world and take any allegations of misconduct extremely seriously. We are investigating, through external legal advisors, allegations of misconduct and are liaising with the Serious Fraud Office and other relevant authorities.

We grow up dreaming we can be one of them

The headquarters and factory of British American Tobacco in Nairobi, Kenya. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Tih Ntiabang, regional coordinator for Africa of the Framework Convention Alliance NGOs that support the WHO treaty said the tobacco companies had become bolder. In the past it used to be invisible interference, but today it is so shameful that it is so visible and they are openly opposing public health treaties like the case in Kenya at the moment Today they boldly go to court to oppose public health policy. Every single government is highly interested in economic growth. They [the tobacco companies] know they have this economic power. The budget of tobacco companies like BAT could be as much as the whole budget of the Africa region.

Our health systems are not really well organised. Our policy makers cant see clearly what are the health costs of inaction on tobacco control because our health system is not very good. It puts the tobacco industry at an advantage on public health.

The sale across the whole of Africa of single cigarette sticks was a serious problem because it enabled children to buy them. They are extremely affordable. Young teenagers are able to purchase a cigarette. You dont need 1 for a pack of 20, he said.

There are fears the number of deaths and illnesses in Africa from tobacco could rise dramatically

BAT includes a status in Africa being an employer offering steady and well-compensated jobs, stated Ntiabang, located in Cameroon. After I involved 10, I had been always dreaming I possibly could work with BAT. They’ve always colored themselves like a responsible company an aspiration company to get results for. All of the staff are very well-off. The youthful people think I wish to work with BAT. They promote lots of occasions making their name seem to youthful people. We develop dreaming we may be one of them.

In Uganda in 2014, BAT md, Jonathan DSouza, sent a 13-page detailed attack around the tobacco control bill, then dealing with parliament, towards the chair from the governments health committee.

BAT was contracting with 18,000 maqui berry farmers and compensated them 61bn Ugandan shillings for 16.8m kg of tobacco in 2013, stated the letter. The economy has benefited considerably from BAT Ugandas investments, it stated. It has helped to ease poverty and improve welfare in urban and rural areas, it states.

BAT Uganda (BATU) agreed tobacco ought to be controlled while respecting the informed choices and legal rights of adults that like to smoke and also the legal legal rights of the legal industry. However it reported 11 regions of concern, claiming there’s no evidence to aid a ban on tobacco displays in stores, that giant graphic health warnings on packs are ineffective, that proposals on bans on smoking in public areas were too broad which prohibiting smoking younger than 21 was not reasonable, since at 18 youthful individuals are adults and may constitute their very own mind.

Documents published through the College of Bath reveal that BATU had another concern: the ban around the purchase of cheap single cigarettes. Adults ought to be liberated to purchase the things they are able to afford, states an internal leaked paper. BATU also required action from the MP who backed the balance. Instructions informed him that the organization would not be contracting using the 709 tobacco maqui berry farmers in the region. There’s evidence that the organization also lobbied other MPs with tobacco maqui berry farmers within their constituencies.

The Tobacco Control Act grew to become law in 2015, as well as in November this past year, BAT sued. Lots of people decide to smoke, stated an affidavit towards the court from md Dadson Mwaura and it was vital to make sure regulation didn’t result in unintended effects that risk an untaxed and unrestrained illegitimate exchange cigarettes and tobacco products. BATUs legal product led to the Ugandan economy in lots of dimensions.

A vendor in Nairobis Uhuru Park sells single stick cigarettes. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

The Guardian has seen letters showing that at least six other African governments have faced challenges from the multinational tobacco companies over their attempts to control smoking.

  • Democratic Republic of Congo: Letter to the president sent in April 2017 by the Fdration des Entreprises du Congo (chamber of commerce) on behalf of the tobacco industry, listing 29 concerns with the proposed tobacco control regulations, which they claim violate the constitution, international agreements and domestic law.
  • Burkina Faso: Letter sent in January 2016 to the minister of health from Imperial Tobacco, warning that restrictions on labeling and packaging cigarettes risks economic and social damage to the country. Previous letter sent to the prime minister from the US Chambers of Commerce in December 2013 warning that large health warnings and plain packaging could put Burkina Faso in breach of its obligations to the World Trade Organisation.
  • Ethiopia: Letter sent in February 2015 to the ministers of health and science and technology by Philip Morris International, claiming that the governments tobacco directive banning trademarks, brands and added ingredients to tobacco breached existing laws and would penalise all consumer retailers.
  • Togo: Letter to the minister of commerce in June 2012 from Philip Morris International opposing plain packaging, which risks having damaging consequences on Togos economy and business environment.
  • Gabon: Letter from BAT arguing that there is no evidence that plain packaging reduces smoking, citing the Deloitte report of 2011, alleging its introduction would put Gabon in breach of trade agreements and promote smuggling.
  • Namibia: Letter to the minister of health from BAT, warning that planned tobacco controls will have a massive impact on the Namibian economy at large.

Bintou Camara, director of Africa programs at Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said: British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International and other multinational tobacco companies have set their sights on Africa as a growth market for their deadly products. Throughout Africa, tobacco companies have tried to intimidate countries from taking effective action to reduce tobacco use, the worlds leading cause of preventable death, he added.

Governments in Africa should know that they can and should move forward with measures aimed at preventing and reducing tobacco use and that they do so with the support of the many governments and leaders around the world that have taken strong action to protect public health.

Cloe Franko, Senior International Organizer at Corporate Accountability International, said: In Kenya, as in other parts of the world, the industry has resorted to frivolous litigation, aggressive interference … to thwart, block, and delay lifesaving policies. BATs actions are emblematic of a desperate industry grasping to maintain its hold over countries and continue to peddle its deadly product.

Philip Morris said it is regularly engaged in discussions with governments. We are approached by or approach public authorities to discuss a range of issues that are important for them and for us, such as taxation, international trade, and tobacco control policies. Participating in discussions and sharing points of view is a basic principle of public policy making and does not stop governments from taking decisions and enacting the laws they deem best. It said that it supports effective regulation, including laws banning sales to minors, mandatory health warnings, and advertising restrictions.

Imperial Tobacco said it sold its brands where theres a legitimate and existing demand for tobacco and take the same responsible approach in Africa as we do in any Western territory. A spokesman said it supported reasonable, proportionate and evidence-based regulation of tobacco, including health warnings that are consistent with global public health messages. But, it said, Imperial would continue to make our views known on excessive, unnecessary and often counter-productive regulatory proposals.

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