750,000 die in UK corporate social responsibility scandal

Thursday 26 April 2007

ASH news release:  For Immediate Use 26th April 2007


750,000 die in UK corporate social responsibility scandal
At the British American Tobacco AGM today young activists from round the world gathered to turn the tables on the tobacco giant to highlight its disgraced marketing tactics and mark the company’s contribution to the 5 million tobacco related deaths each year. In the words of one young protester,

“If they have 15% of the world market then they are responsible for 15% of the world’s tobacco deaths, three quarters of a million deaths every year.”
Nigerian Adeola Akinremi protested that BAT was selling cigarettes in quantities of two rather than packs of ten and twenty – a practice made illegal in the UK in 1991 as it makes cigarettes cheaper to buy for underage smokers. When Jeffries Briginshaw, Head of International Political and Regulatory Affairs, British American Tobacco insisted this was not the case Adeola pulled out a copy of the advertisement as proof. [1]

D-Myst and ATYC [2] two groups of teenagers from Liverpool sang a song they had specially composed for BAT “Ring a ring a roses, BAT supposes, nobody will notice when we all fall down” Embarrassed shareholders hurried into the meeting, unwilling to meet the eyes of the young people.[3] 16 year old Jake from Liverpool sat outside the AGM posing as a beggar with a card saying “Smoking killed my parents”.  They were joined by activists from the UK wearing “toxic waste” body suits.

Inside the meeting, Deborah Arnott, Director of ASH said to Jan du Plessis, Chairman of BAT,

“The ASH report You’ve got to be Kidding, shows that BAT is using marketing methods round the world which glamorise and romanticise smoking, which are known to be particularly attractive to young people and which you voluntarily gave up using in the UK 30 years ago. How can you do this, yet say you practice corporate social responsibility?”
“ASH is concerned that the tactics used in the UK where BAT sponsor pubs so they only supply Lucky Strike cigarettes, have Lucky Strike bar top display cases, customised vending machines and even murals in the Lucky Strike colours, breach the Tobacco Advertising Act 2002 and that even if they don’t breach the letter of the law they do breach the spirit of the law.”
When he replied that he couldn’t answer the question about BAT’s international marketing as the accusations were too general, Deborah Arnott replied,

“I can give you a specific example of an advertisement from Santiago in Chile which states, “When women say ‘no’ they mean ‘maybe’. When they say ‘maybe’, watch out.” How does that conform to your standards of corporate social responsibility?

She added that ASH has written to the Health Minister to urge the Department of Health to investigate these potential breaches of the legislation.[3]

Jan du Plessis responded by insisting that the company makes every possible efforts to conform to both the spirit and the letter of the law. ASH has sent a copy of the full report to BAT and is awaiting the company’s response to its allegations.


Notes and links:

[1] The practice and the advertisement were both cited in, “You’ve got to be kidding: How BAT promotes its brands to young people around the world” published by ASH today. The report can be downloaded from  www.ash.org.uk/html/conduct/pdfs/batreport2007.pdf

[2] D-Myst (Direct Movement by the Youth SmokeFree Team) is a project of Smokefree Liverpool www.d-myst.info.  ATYC (Anti Tobacco Youth Campaign) is the youth project of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation www.roycastle.org

[3] http://www.ash.org.uk/html/conduct/pdfs/070426lettertocarolineflint.pdf


Contact: Martin Dockrell  020 7739 5902 (w) 07949 089 636 (m) ISDN available

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