Africa must reject BAT’s fools’ gold

Cameroon school children at point of sale where tobacco advertising is visible. Photo credit: ATCA

Tih Ntiabang is the Regional Coordinator — AFRO, for the Framework Convention Alliance.


The latest ‘sustainability’ report published by British American Tobacco (BAT) states: “we are committed to operating to the highest standards of corporate conduct and transparency.” [1] In pursuit of its strategic goals, the multinational even tries to portray itself as being in alignment with the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Is it necessary to remind anyone of BAT’s historic and ongoing appalling business conduct across the globe — specifically in low and middle-income countries, with the African region being a key target?

Legacy tobacco industry documents show that BAT has been implementing a long-agreed strategy to gradually shift their markets from societies with higher regulatory systems to those with little or no regulatory systems and rising potential markets. In one such document, BAT proclaims that “Africa is also projected to continue growing…BAT is strongly placed to take advantage of the growth in these markets.” [2]

Africa has embraced the world’s only global health treaty, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). However, tobacco companies including BAT have held the continent hostage with the lure of corporate social responsibility initiatives, which contravene Article 5.3 of the Treaty.

In Malawi, Mozambique Tanzania, Uganda and others, BAT has successfully used front groups to portray itself as an indispensable partner in providing solutions to a problem — child labour — that they cause. They manipulate decision-makers, and public opinion to ensure they maintain a ‘positive’ image in the eyes of the government and public.

In March 2018, during the 332nd meeting of the International Labour Organization (ILO) governing body, a delegate representing Uganda delivered a disturbing statement urging the ILO to continue taking money from the tobacco industry. According to this delegate, the statement was delivered on behalf of the African region. This is an example of the tobacco industry’s strong grip on the continent.

BAT also flouts tobacco control laws in many African countries, in ways it would never try to get away with in its home country Britain. In Nigeria and Uganda, despite the fact it’s illegal, BAT continues to advertise around schools. In Benin and Nigeria, the law is flouted by making single cigarettes easily available, especially around schools. BAT branded kiosks even target schools for children as young as six. [3]

It is no surprise that the public health community in Africa questions the relevance of BAT’s supposed “highest standards of corporate conduct and transparency.” BAT’s determination to market its products to the poor and children tells a different story. Africa will only avoid a rapidly growing epidemic of tobacco caused diseases if it fully implements the FCTC, including by rejecting BAT’s appeals for sustainable development partnerships.


[1] British American Tobacco — Transforming Tobacco Sustainability Report 2017

[2] From — British American Tobacco, Talk to TMDP-Chelwood August 1990, 24 July 1990, Bates no. 502619006–502619029, accessed June 2014; note: The document is a 24-page speech with no author mentioned. However, the speaker introduces himself as sharing his “views from the perspective of a BAT Industries Board member as well as that of BATCo Chairman”. In 1990, Barry Bramley was the company’s Chairman, and at the trial MINNESOTA V. PHILIP MORRIS INC., the speech was attributed to him Deposition of RAYMOND J. PRITCHARD

[3] African Tobacco Control Alliance — Big Tobacco Tiny Targets : Tobacco Industry Targets Schools In Africa