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,
"[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."
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.
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NneomaMD said...

tobacco industry = evil

plain and simple

TheAfroBeat said...

Completely unacceptable of BAT. Despite everything they did wrong (violating their own marketing codes), they can't stop retailers from selling single cigarettes so maybe that's the big question we should be addressing - stopping the manufacture of cigarettes altogether vs. letting pp choose for themselves (whether kids see ads with cigarettes or not, they will still have access to them regardless and therein lies the greater problem).

Wow lagos state spent N2.7b on health (tobacco-related alone) last year...i'm impressed. If only we could see results.

thanks for sharing! and again, for the guest post!


@ Nneoma: You are straight to the point, aren't you? lol! I have nothing positive to say about the tobacco industry. I wonder why....Thanks for stopping by.

@ The AfroBeat: Them selling individual cancer sticks isn't my problem, you know. It is the other actions that the company has taken - providing BAT labeled bowls that help sellers to further market the single cigarettes. Knowingly advertising to young children and not taking the time to try and prevent children from being targeted to purchase tobacco is an unconscionable failure that I think almost any law student that has taken torts can argue convincingly. The only problem is the money to duel with big tobacco in court for as long as they can. Anyway, i see your point though, it would be hard to accomplish especially without strict enforcement by authorities in the specific countries, Nigeria for instance.

Thanks for the comment and no problem re: guest post.

Anonymous said...

You know, our legislative body needs to be more proactive on these issues. When tackling things like this, a strong legislation should emerge on the matter, else the Tobacco Industry will find a way around any restrictions it encounters. I believe that tobacco should come under the regulation of NAFDAC, because it is a drug delivery substance. And if it is like other drugs with no health benefits, it should be out rightly banned. We cannot afford to toy with the health of a new generation when we haven't even invested into their future yet.

Jennifer A. said...

This article pertains to me because I am in the Health Administration field as well.

This is such a shocking can tobacco companies (specifically BAT) knowingly and purposefully focus on 11 yr olds (or even youth in general)?

If you find any organizations advocating against this, pls let us know so that we can join the cause...

Anonymous said...

As far as Im concerned, the Tobacco Companies are not to be blamed. They are a for-profit business-and they will do what they can to make profit, however they can.
The brunt of responsibility rests with the Nigerian government. Untill they make efforts to stop selling tobacco/alcohol to minors-there should be no complaints about the tobacco companies. Those in government will not make any changes untill the electorate becomes more active. Unfortunately, I find that most Nigerians are ready to complain and not do much more. Government is easy to blame-but who is the government?! It is OUR duty as citizens to shout from the rooftops untill those that we supposedly elected hear us.
Yes there is the question of ethics with multinational companies-but they will not maintain the same standards in host countries that they do in their home countries untill we force them to. Untill we have more Ken Saro Wiwa's...things will unfortuanately remain the same.

HLumiti said...

Hi Solomon,

That picture indicts us sadly. We, and our governments, are doing pretty badly.

But at least the authorities there are taking the war to the multinationals. An expensive undertaking that needs all the support that can be marshaled. BAT... how low can one go? Bats!

Here in Kenya, the big boys are cozy in bed with the likes of BAT as they do the arithmetic of taxes in return for market freedoms. Taking them head on for reparations is not even on the agenda, perhaps for fear of losing revenue and investors. Its a shame I tell you, for which posterity will not fondly remember us.

FineBoy Agbero said...

I think it all eventually comes down to a matter of choice and control.
BAT could very well argue that it doesn't sell these cigarettes directly to children; its products leave its direct control once they get to the retailers.
Basically, it becomes a problem of control: are the retailers legally and morally restrained enough to control who they sell to? In the US, for example, it wouldn't be so easy for an under-age kid to buy a bottle of beer.
But, in Africa where the tray-merchants and the kiosk-owners are too poor to give a hoot about moral or legal right, even a 2-year old can buy a truckload of cigarettes.
It is therefore not as much a fault of the tobacco companies as it is the absence of a proper structure in Africa.

Jinta said...

Hmm. i used to smoke and stopped mainly because it became too expensive. I'm not sure exactly how these BAT guys target the young, however, I believe we make our choices. where are the parents of these 11 year olds?

Chris Ogunlowo said...

The Nigerian government makes legislation to curb the activities of tobacco companies. But I find it disturbing, as a matter of moral concern, that this same government gave license of operation to tobacco companies.

Tobacco companies are not killing us. Our government is!

guerreiranigeriana said...

...yep, the brits along with us tobacco companies...i think the us ones focused on asian youth...its all despicable...i find it amazing that these tactics aren't considered human right violations because that's exactly what they are...

Nogo said...

That's disgusting! It's like the West are slowly trying to push their product away, and rather than be ashamed in their big houses at the expense of other people's health they target other countries they believe won't fight as hard. Civil words cannot describe how annoying that is. As if we don't have enough problems of our own without them trying to add another.

a.eye said...

It seems as though the tobacco companies of the West have learned that they cannot advertise to the youth in their own nations (due to regulations) so they have to find another region where they can regain this market -- thus moving on to nations of Africa where the corporations and medical organizations have not yet pushed to get regulations on who they can advertise to and who can buy these products as extensively as in their own nations.

loomnie said...

I just went to read the BBC story.... It just isn't right, just isn't.

NneomaMD said...

actually about being straight to the point....well,i wanted to be the first to comment without saying that i was first comment and felt that i should keep my message short in order to avoid someone else stealing that honor.

anyway if the Nigerian government is to blame for any of this, it is the fact that it refuses to learn from the mistakes of others in time. The United States, not too long ago, received and still continues to receive money from suits against its resident tobacco companies for knowingly advertising cigarettes to youth (some of us remember Joe Camel) and *purposefully* making their cigarettes more addictive than they need to be. It took yeeeeears before the United States took action against these practices - both because of the power these companies wieleded and that facts were not *as* conclusive as needed to indict the tobacco companies.

So personally, I think Nigerian government by suig BAT is taking a step in the right direction, though somewhat late...but a step nonetheless. I'm waiting to see what Nigeria will do with the settlement money when it does win.

Anon said...

Wow! I thought I had died seeing that little girl smoking. I never knew smoking was an issue in Nigeria. It's taboo in my family...I don't know of anyone that smokes. Now drinking...

Writefreak said...

God have mercy! I so agree with your post!

Ms. emmotions said...

this is really sad, so sad, dont even know wat to say, its as if its only in africa that people can do al sorts and get a way it....its a pity

NneomaMD said...

@ms emmotions - uhhhhh, BAT and other cigarette companies first practiced their tactics in the west and got away with it for some time...its only recently (depending on how old you are) that the US has leveled some strong suits against these companies for advertising to minors. as someone in their twenties, i still can remember the joe camel adverts, t-shirts and gear that sponsored some school events where I lived in the South. the upside of it is that BAT is not getting away with it in Naija. But it is up to Naija to determine what they will do with that settlement money if and when they receive it.

@SSD - i couldnt get access to the daily trust article link. Though, I assume that the 2.7billion naira was not spent on tobacco prevention or spent by the government but rather on what individuals and hospitals paid to take care of care of themselves. like i said, naija has the problem of not learning from others mistakes. in the US, we spend so much, as a nation, on taking care of the sick but not enough (both time and money and creative resources) with prevention.

anyway, lovely post.

Femi B said...

oh My!!! That picture is going to hunt me forever!!!!

wellsbaba said...

I knw they sell2bois to as little as 15 but girls I dnt bliv oo...I live in 9ja naw,neva seen anytin like dat plus i think d very pic is a charade but in anymeans they do sell to underage n it must stop!

rethots said...

Haha, yet again we 'blame' the Government (not that they are totally absolved of any responsibilities), however, i think this is more of a moral issue. Back then, you dared not do what was wrong (no matter how 'twas coloured). But now, it seems to me the youths have been emboldened (did i hear someone whisper, "where are the parents.....?" Points-on you are very right).

"Tobacco companies are not killing us. Our government is!" ...only neither is it the Government killing us but, we ourselves.
For once let's take responsibility for our short-comings. That way we can collectively move forward.

I will not 'steal' not 'cos of the fear of been caught ('m sure, with enough planning...) but, 'tis not my habit. Moreover, i was indoctrinated (a family affair) with the morality of life. This i believe is what we should do to our nation's future (these youths) and stop blaming the Government.

Interesting subject Nigerian Curiosity.

tobenna said...

I'm going to be as objective as possible on this.
We are not listening to both sides of the story.
I had a very close relationship with BAT in times past and know to a very large extent how they work. This relationship does not exist anymore and for all intents and purpose has been long dead.

BAT does not market to under 18 smokers as a policy. At least, not in Nigeria. Even before the Nigerian government started legislating on tobacco, it was a policy to not advertise either through billboards or posters a certain number of kilometers near schools. The company unilaterally stopped all tv and radio adverts in Nigeria. The company also unilaterally stopped all shows especially their ever popular music shows. A lot of these laws needed not apply to BAT because they were already implementing these strategies. Infact, BAT at some point went to complain to the government that some other tobacco companies were not abiding with these policies.(Selfish, of course as these companies might be stealing market share from BAT otherwise)
Nigeria is not a known tobacco smoking country statistically.
The number of sticks sold here in a year is very insignificant compared to other countries and our population. The northern part of the country accounts for a lot of these sales.

Listen to this, a lot of families in villages in the north smoke local tobacco from pipes that are passed around from grandparents to parents to children and even grandchildren at the same time over a meal. Smoking is a bad habit that has been with us in Nigeria for generations and will continue to be. The bitter truth is that it cannot be stopped. Kinda like prostitution.
The government's role is to regulate it and enforce its laws strictly.
On the issue of single stick marketing, I know for sure that it is not encouraged by BAT. Prices of the single sticks are priced a lot higher than buying the packet. However, the Nigerian market is known as one that buys more of the single sticks than the packets. Because of our poverty rate. It is going to be difficult to change this overnight. The government should focus on this and its going to be difficult because the hard truth is that this industry employs thousands of Nigerians, directly and indirectly and is a huge source of funds via tax returns and high custom duty charges.
The statistics from the Lagos state and Federal governments on the number of tobacco related illnesses in hospitals and the attendant costs are crap. BAT has asked them to substantiate with evidence in the courts and they cannot. They just want to make more money from these companies like some other individuals in other countries have. Note that I said individuals and not countries. Nothing wrong with this though. As long as its left for the courts to decide.

The tobacco industry should be strictly regulated & restricted to adults to make the choice. I agree.

Anonymous said...

I read up on this. There was actually a really good documentary a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to watch, but I was at work. I think you can watch it on the BBC Website. (If you can stream it.)

Anonymous said...

BAT shouldnt have been selling it in africa in the first place, Africans already have health problems i mean cmon do u want to kill the or wut? would u like it if they sold it to ur children? we are all humans there isnt comparison u can't sell it to them cuz they might be less fortunate then us, even if they didnt sell it to the kids directly they still shouldnt have gone there of course the kids will sneak them they have nuthin else if smoking can replace food for them then ya but just sell sumthin healthy like wow

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