BAT threatens eight African governments over anti-smoking regulations

An expose by a British newspaper reveals how BAT is using intimidatory tactics in order to block attempts seeking to limit its sales in Africa.

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British American Tobacco (BAT) has once again been put on the spotlight for threatening governments in eight countries in Africa, including Kenya with regards to anti-smoking regulations.

The multinational tobacco company is fighting through the courts to try to block the Kenyan and Ugandan governments’ attempts to bring in regulations to limit the harm caused by smoking.

According to British Newspaper The Guardian, BAT’s lawyers want the country’s high court to do away with a package of anti-smoking regulations and rails against what it terms as an erratic tax plan.

The case is now before the Supreme Court after the firm lost in the High Court and the Appeals court.

Whereas sales in Europe and the US have experienced a sharp decline, the tobacco companies are looking to Africa which has a fast-growing young and increasingly prosperous population to boost sales.

In neighboring Uganda, BAT says that the government’s Tobacco Control Act is “inconsistent with and in contravention of the constitution”.

The report also claims that the company is targeting children in its attempts to gain new sales, a claim BAT strongly deny.

Likewise, The Guardian says it has seen letters, including three by BAT, sent to the governments of Namibia, Togo, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso revealing the intimidatory tactics that tobacco companies are using, accusing governments of breaching their own laws and international trade agreements and warning of damage to the economy.

Delaying regulations

In Kenya, BAT has succeeded in delaying regulations to restrict the promotion and sale of cigarettes for 15 years.

Professor Peter Odhiambo, a former heart surgeon who is head of the government’s Tobacco Control Board in Kenya, told the Guardian: “BAT has done as much as they can to block us.”

Health experts say that smoking still kills more than 7 million people globally every year world-wide and there are an estimated 77 million smokers in Africa.

BAT is expected to become the world’s biggest listed tobacco firm as it completes its acquisition of the large US tobacco company Reynolds in a US$49 billion deal.

There also fears over the extent to which big tobacco can financially outmuscle health ministries in poorer nations.

Even in the face of this appalling expose, BAT has denied that it is opposed to all tobacco regulation, but notes that it reserves the right to ask the courts to intervene where it believes regulations may not comply with the law.

The Guardian says that although most countries in Africa have signed the World Health Organisation (WHO) treaty on tobacco control, none has yet fully implemented the smoking restrictions it endorses.

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