ASH Daily News 1 November 2019


  • BAT faces landmark legal case over Malawi families’ poverty wages
  • Altria writes down Juul investment by $4.5bn

Parliamentary Activity

  • House of Commons debate: E-cigarettes

Links of the Week

  • Cochrane Review: Community pharmacy personnel interventions for smoking cessation
  • Cochrane Review: Relapse prevention interventions for smoking cessation


BAT faces landmark legal case over Malawi families’ poverty wages

Human rights lawyers are preparing to bring a landmark case against British American Tobacco (BAT) on behalf of hundreds of children and their families forced by poverty wages to work in conditions of gruelling hard labour in the fields of Malawi.

Leigh Day’s lawyers are seeking compensation for more than 350 child labourers and their parents in the high court in London, arguing that the British company is guilty of “unjust enrichment”. Leigh Day says it anticipates the number of child labourer claimants could rise as high as 15,000. While BAT claims it has told farmers not to use their children as unpaid labour, the lawyers say the families cannot afford to work their fields otherwise, because they receive so little money for their crop. The case, potentially one of the biggest that human rights lawyers have ever brought, could transform the lives of children in poor countries who are forced to work to survive.

Martyn Day, a founding partner and head of the legal firm, said: “It is totally depressing that one of the largest companies in the world, and certainly one of the largest British companies, is involved in an area where the employment of children is such a fundamental part of what happens. It has been going on for decades, and as a result of all of that the farmers of Malawi are caught in a groundhog day, where one generation after another is having to farm tobacco and is caught in a poverty trap.”

Many of the families are from Phalombe, one of the poorest regions in the south of the country. They are recruited to tobacco farms in the north with the promise of food, accommodation and a lump sum in cash for their crop. Their accommodation is a straw hut they must build themselves; the food is a monthly sack of maize, which is insufficient to feed the family and which is stopped before their tenancy ends. The lump sum they are paid at the end of the season dwindles often to less than half what is offered after deductions for tools and loans that the families have to take out to pay for essentials. Their lawyers say the work amounts to forced or bonded labour because they are misled when recruited, are afraid to leave and quickly get into debt.

Children as young as three are involved in tobacco farming, the letter of claim says, often during harvest when the work can be especially hazardous. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of toxic pesticides, fertiliser and green tobacco sickness from nicotine absorption while handling the leaves. Symptoms include breathing difficulties, cramps and vomiting.

BAT is one of the most profitable companies in the world, making an operating profit last year of £9.3bn on sales of £24.5bn. Like other big tobacco companies, it has distanced itself from the farmers by commissioning a separate company to buy a stipulated amount of tobacco leaf each year. Alliance One signs contracts with land-owning farmers in Malawi, who then recruit tenant farmer families to work the fields. The lawyers, who have sent BAT the letter of claim and say they expect to issue proceedings this year, argue that responsibility for the conditions of the tenant families rests ultimately with BAT, which decides the price it will pay for tobacco leaf.

A report in 2011 estimated there were 1.3 million children under the age of 14 working in tobacco around the world. In 2017, an International Labour Organisation report said child labour in tobacco was on the increase and “rampant”. Day said: “If we are successful in Malawi, I would very much hope it would persuade BAT and the other tobacco companies that use very similar models to change those models and make sure people are properly compensated for the work and totally discourage children from working so they can go to school.”

Source: The Guardian, 31 October 2019

See also
The Guardian: The children labouring in Malawi’s fields for British American Tobacco
The Guardian: Child labour rampant in tobacco industry

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Altria writes down Juul investment by $4.5bn

The tobacco giant Altria Group said Thursday that it had devalued its investment in the vaping company Juul Labs by $4.5 billion, a move that reflects deepening turmoil in the e-cigarette industry.

The tobacco group, parent of Marlboro-owner Philip Morris USA, valued its investment in Juul at $12.8bn at the end of June but said in a statement on Thursday accompanying its third-quarter results that it had booked the non-cash, pre-tax charge on the start-up.

Altria said its decision to record the impairment was driven by the cumulative effect of various e-vapour bans in certain US cities, states and some international markets, the increased likelihood of the Food and Drug Administration removing flavoured vaping pods and “other factors” rather than a “single determinative event or factor”.

Altria agreed to pay about $12.8 bn for a 35% stake in Juul last December. The price paid raised eyebrows at the time, with some analysts describing the valuation as “unusually high”. Juul employees shared a $2bn bonus pool as a result of the deal.

Source: Financial Times, 1 November 2019

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Parliamentary Activity

House of Commons debate: E-cigarettes

MPs debated the Government’s response to the Science and Technology Committee’s 2017 report on E-cigarettes on Thursday 31st October. In addition to the report’s recommendations and the Government’s response, topics for discussion included US reports of lung injury and death and the need for the UK to ensure smokers here are not discouraged from switching to e-cigarettes.

Source: Hansard, 31 October 2019

See Transcript

Links of the Week

Cochrane Review: Community pharmacy personnel interventions for smoking cessation

A new Cochrane Review of pharmacy personnel interventions for smoking cessation has been published, key findings include:
• There is some evidence that community pharmacy support helps people to quit smoking.
• More intensive structured care given by community pharmacy staff probably helps more people to quit smoking than less intensive support to quit.
• Future trials of pharmacists providing behavioural support for smoking cessation should try to record in detail what pharmacotherapy participants receive and should make concerted efforts to maintain randomisation and adherence to study protocol.

See Study

Cochrane Review: Relapse prevention interventions for smoking cessation

A new Cochrane Review of relapse prevention interventions for smoking cessation has been published, key findings include:
• The evidence shows that extended treatment with varenicline helps people who’ve recently quit smoking to remain quit, but more studies are needed.
• The evidence does not support the use of behavioural interventions that teach people to recognise high-risk situations and the skills to resist the temptation to start smoking again.
• More studies are needed of extended treatment with stop-smoking medicines.

See Study