British American Tobacco AGM 2006 Celebrating Exporting Misery to the Poor

Thursday 27 April 2006

ASH news release:  Embargo: 00:01hrs Thursday 27th April 2006
Britain’s largest tobacco firm, British American Tobacco, holds its AGM today, as Action on Smoking and Health publishes a new paper accusing the company of systematic exploitation and abuse in the developing world.

Using Kenya as a case study (BAT is by far the largest tobacco firm in the country), the paper (pdf) shows:

·                 BAT uses advertising and promotional methods in Kenya that are banned in the UK, attempting to associate smoking with sport and fashion, and promoting sales of single cigarettes to attract young people and the poor (photographs taken in Kenya in November 2005)

·                 BAT has lobbied and offered perks and benefits to Kenyan politicians to frustrate attempts to pass tobacco control legislation;

·                 BAT has played a major role in supporting a shockingly high smoking prevalence rate in the country, including among young children, ensuring a major public health disaster in a country already struggling with AIDS; and

·                 BAT has been encouraging farmers to grow tobacco at the expense of food and vital crops, and encouraging the very poor to spend money on feeding their addiction rather than their families, at a time when four million Kenyans require food aid because of drought, under-production of basic crops and poor distribution. Meanwhile BAT has sought favourable publicity by making a £120,000 donation to the country’s famine relief fund.

Meanwhile, BAT Kenya is making record profits. Pre-tax profits rose 14% to 2 billion Ksh in 2005 (around £16 million), against Ksh1.75 billion in 2004. Local demand grew by 2%, and exports increased from 1.2 billion sticks in 2004, to 3.2 billion in 2005.

BAT Kenya has lobbied fiercely against any attempts to pass tobacco control legislation in the country. A 2004 Bill was blocked after opposition from BAT and the tobacco lobby. Tactics included  BAT and other tobacco firms spending at least 7 million Kenyan shillings (Ksh) [about £56,000] to host MPs at the exclusive Safari Beach Hotel in Diania for a “discussion” of the anti-tobacco Bill. MPs present then backed the amendments the companies proposed at the weekend meeting. [1] Advertising in Kenya includes attempts to promote sale of single cigarettes, which breaches even BAT’s own discredited marketing code, whichi states that ”cigarettes shall not be sold or distributed to consumers in packages containing fewer than ten sticks”. Single stick sales are directly intended to attract young people and others on low incomes. Single stick sales were made illegal in the UK in 1991 under the Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act.

Last year Kenya’s health minister said that 1.1 million underage Kenyans were addicted to tobacco. The Health Ministry estimates that Kenyans smoke about ten billion cigarettes a year, equivalent to more than 500 each year for every Kenyan adult. The Ministry also estimates that while tobacco taxations raises around 5 billion shillings each year, it costs the country five times as much in disease, disability and death. [2] BAT’s PR approach to this issue includes offering around £6,000 for a health facility in Eastern Kenya.

Tobacco addiction is worsening the country’s serious problem with malnutrition and even famine. Analysis by the East African newspaper suggested that a Nairobi casual worker earning Ksh150  a day, for example, would only need to smoke eight cigarettes – each costing Ksh3 – daily to go through a fifth of his pay. The same money can buy half a litre of milk from a supermarket, or five eggs – enough protein to pre-empt serious malnutrition in a family of four. BAT’s PR approach to this issue includes offering £120,000 to the country’s famine relief fund, at a public ceremony with Kenyan president Kibaki.

ASH Public Affairs Manager Ian Willmore said:

“Our paper shows just how BAT plans to respond to the decline in the number of smokers in the developed world, and to the growing regulation of their devastating product and the smooth and cynical PR campaigns that go with it. BAT plans to ‘grow’ their market in developing countries. They arrive with glossy adverts and handouts to eager politicians. They leave behind a trail of wreckage: public health disaster, damage to the environment and the worsening of already chronic malnutrition.

BAT’s AGM will be another opportunity for self-satisfied men in suits to congratulate each other on how much money they are making. They must hope that their chatter about profit and dividends and moaning about Government regulation will be loud enough to drown out the voices of their millions of victims across the world”.


– ENDS –


Notes and Links

British American Tobacco: Exporting Misery, ASH, 2006 (pdf)

[1] Tobacco Industry Calls Another MPs’ Retreat and Cigarette manufacturers put on notice


Ian Willmore 020 7739 5902 (w) 07887 641344 (m)

Deborah Arnott  020 7739 5902 (w) 079 7693 5987 (m)


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