"[t]he World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that the number of smoking-related deaths in Africa is 100,000 a year, but that that figure is set to double in the next 20 years."
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Reader T sent me a disturbing story about British American Tobacco (BAT) and its marketing strategy on the African continent.
According to the BBC, BAT discovered that it can attract more young African buyers of its product by adjusting marketing strategy to meet their (young people's) needs. Now, there is nothing wrong with marketing one's product to target an audience of possible consumers. However, in this case, BAT allegedly targeted Nigerian and other African children as young as 11 by aggressively marketing single 'cancer sticks' to them. The company also hosted events that targeted young people despite their publicly stated commitments to the contrary. One individual even went as far as describing BAT as "the unacceptable face of British Business". While I would rather give that distinction to Brutish Airways, I can find no fault with the gentleman's characterization. These acts by BAT are simply unconscionable and are illegal in the West, but somehow, cigarette producers manage to get away with them on the African continent.
The serious health consequences of BAT's actions are already being felt on the continent but it seems the worst is yet to come. In fact,
In 2007, Nigeria became the first African country to sue major cigarette manufacturers for the health problems created by their products. This was because of the growing burden of cigarette related health costs on the nation's struggling health sector. In 2006, Lagos State recorded more than nine thousand cases of tobacco-related diseases at its hospitals. The state spent over N2.7 billion treating these cases over the course of just one year. Considering this information, it is no surprise that Lagos State, and the Federal Government of Nigeria, seeks compensation. One of the tobacco companies being sued is none other than BAT.
This new information about BAT's tactics will only provide useful evidence to Nigeria's legal team. Hopefully, health administrators across the continent will also use this knowledge to create effective programs limiting the number of new cigarette smokers in their respective countries. Nigeria, and Africa in general, does not have the luxury of not stamping out cigarettes from our society. We have enough issues to deal with. Being a market for cigarette products, the resulting addiction, cancer and other related problems is not something we need to put on our plate at this point in time.