British American Tobacco: A “Killer” in Africa



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This article was written by Manuja Perera and Andrew Rowell, TCRG University of Bath

Lagos, Nigeria: A temporary kiosk visible from Apapa Senior High School gate, displaying BAT cigarettes on the counter next to sweets and snacks. Photo by ATCA

 

While tobacco consumption globally is decreasing, in the coming decades the number of smokers in Africa is anticipated to rise by nearly 40% from 2010 levels. This is the largest expected increase in the world.

British American Tobacco (BAT) claims to be “committed to the highest standards of corporate conduct”. [1] However, it has a long history of selling its deadly products in Africa, and the continent is a key region for growth for the company. It is predicted that one billion people will die from tobacco use globally by 2100. Millions of these will be in Africa. [2]

In Kenya, where BAT controls some 70 per cent of the market, the country’s Tobacco Control Act took more than 13 years to be passed, largely due to what has been labelled by the Kenya Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation as “intimidation” and “interference” from the tobacco industry (PDF).

Recently the company has also been dogged by bribery allegations in Africa, raising further concerns about its business practices.

In November 2015, a BBC Panorama documentary revealed that BAT had bribed African government officials and politicians to influence tobacco control laws and undermine its competitors in the region. [3]

The documentary was based on industry documents leaked by the whistle-blower, Paul Hopkins, who was employed by BAT for 13 years. The BBC alleged that “BAT made illegal payments to two members and one former member of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a United Nations campaign supported by 180 countries, aimed at reducing deaths from tobacco-related illness.” In response to the allegations, Dr Vera Da Costa e Silva, from the WHO, said BAT “is using bribery to profit at the cost of people’s lives, simple as that”. BAT denied the allegations. [4]

Notes

[1] British American Tobacco Website. Who we are. [Accessed 26 April 2017]
[2] The Guardian. Ebola may be in the headlines, but tobacco is another killer in Africa. 15 October 2014.
[3] The Guardian. Tobacco industry accused of ‘intimidation and interference’ in Kenya. 2 March 2015.
[4] BBC. The Secret Bribes of Big Tobacco. 30 November 2015.