How Switzerland is choking Africa one puff at a time with dirty cigarettes which would not see the light of day in the Central European country

How Switzerland is choking Africa one puff at a time with dirty cigarettes which would not see the light of the day in the Central European country
  • Switzerland is famous world over and takes great pride in the fact that it exports its delicious chocolate and prestigious watches, across the world
  •  Switzerland is also the world's fifth largest exporter of cigarettes
  • Swiss-based tobacco giants manufacture and export more harmful and addictive cigarettes to Africa than those marketed in Switzerland

On January 22 – 25, the whole world converged at Davos, a small popular ski resort town in the Swiss Alps, to attend the World Economic Forum 2019.

Among the attendees was Zimbabwe finance minister Prof. Mthuli Ncube who represented his boss, President Mnangagwa, who cancelled the trip last minute to go home and attend to growing protests which were getting out of hand.

While in Davos, Ncube didn’t disappoint and came prepared to woo potential investors to invest in his country. The finance minister was giving away Mnangagwa-style Zim scarves at Swiss meet with industrialists before seeking their investment.

Whether his antics were successful or not is another story altogether but one cannot deny the fact that the Mnangagwa-style Zim scarves being dished out were the same ones President Mnangagwa loves donning if not better, same quality, same texture and same everything.

The same, however, cannot be said about their host, Switzerland, it seems the mountainous Central European country has different standards for Swiss, even Europeans but not Africans.

Switzerland is famous world over and takes great pride in the fact that it exports its delicious chocolate and prestigious watches, across the world.

Yet there is another Swiss product that is just as successful, but far less vaunted: cigarettes.

In 2016, Switzerland produced 34.6 billion cigarettes – nearly two billion packets. Some 25% were sold on the domestic market. Nearly 75% were exported, providing enough cigarettes for over four million people to smoke a packet a day over the year.

Where are these cigarettes sold? Japan is destination number one followed by Morocco and South Africa in second and third place respectively.

In 2017, 2,900 tonnes of Swiss cigarettes were exported to Morocco, the equivalent of some 3.625 billion ‘ciggies’.

Nothing is wrong about exporting cigarettes, it only starts being wrong when cigarettes shipped to Africa are more addictive and toxic and thus more deadly than Swiss cigarettes sold in Switzerland.

Same brand, same manufacturer, same everything, the only difference is the quality of the product for different markets.

Marie Maurisse, an investigative journalist and co-founder of Gotham City, a watch letter specializing in economic criminal law unearthed the ‘Swiss little dirty secret.

The independent journalist wanted to know whether Swiss cigarettes smoked in Morocco are the same as those sold in newsagents in Cointrin or in France.

For a year, Marie investigated tobacco multinationals based in Switzerland, whose exports of Swiss cigarettes represent 75% of production.

"Unlike the EU directive, Swiss legislation allows Swiss-based tobacco giants to manufacture and export more harmful and addictive cigarettes than those marketed in Switzerland," said the independent journalist.

Marie discovered the double standards of Swiss cigarettes companies like Philip Morris, the largest tobacco producer in the world who manufacture brands like Marlboro much to the shock of Swiss people.

The only way to know for sure was to analyse samples to test for a comparative study of the sulphur, nicotine and carbon monoxide content of cigarettes smoked in Europe and Morocco.

With the help of the Institute for Work and Health (IST) in Lausanne, a subsidiary of the CHUV (the Lausanne university hospital) which is part of the WTO’s network of certified laboratories, the team were able to analyse no fewer than 30 packets of cigarettes from Morocco, France and Switzerland.

Their methodology was aligned with ISO standards which serve as a point of reference for all researchers who undertake such tests. In Switzerland and Europe, the authorities introduced the standard 10-1-10, which sets the maximum levels of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide that cigarettes sold on the Swiss or European market can contain, namely 10mg of tar, 1mg of nicotine and 10mg of carbon monoxide. The standard served as a reference point for the analysis of our samples.

The results revealed a double standard – Moroccans smoke cigarettes that are more harmful than those smoked by Europeans. For each substance tested, nearly all cigarettes produced in Switzerland and consumed in Morocco contained levels higher than that found in Swiss and French cigarettes.

A sample from a Winston cigarette, for example, contains over 16.31 milligrams of full particles per cigarette, in contrast to 10.5 for Winston Classics bought in Lausanne. In terms of levels of nicotine, the difference between the cigarettes sold in Morocco and Switzerland is particularly striking: according to IST’s results, there are 1.28 milligrams per cigarette for ‘Swiss-made’ Camels sold in Morocco, in comparison to barely 0.75 milligrams in Camel Filters sold in Switzerland.

In terms of carbon monoxide, which reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood, the level also differs greatly between Winston Blues smoked in Morocco (9.62 milligrams per cigarette) or Switzerland (5.45 milligrams). Despite the reassuring name, smoking Camel Lights in Casablanca means consuming cigarettes that are more harmful than the Camel Filters in Lausanne.

Multinationals would try and argue that they try to "adapt to the tastes of the local population". However, for nicotine "there may be another reason: to increase the dependence of young smokers, in order to convert them into consumers and loyal customers"

"In any case, the more these substances are important in cigarettes, the more it is harmful to health," laments Marie Maurisse.

It is no wonder 13% of smokers in Morocco are aged 15 and under and the proportion of girls who smoke is starting to rival that of boys.

Nowadays, 55% of the cigarettes smoked in Morocco are imported, mostly from Switzerland and then Turkey.

With one billion inhabitants and a population in strong growth, Africa has become one of the preferred targets by cigarettes companies.

Globally, 80% of smokers live in low- or middle-income countries. The WHO estimates that there are 77 million smokers in Africa, namely 6.5% of the continent’s population.

The institution predicts that by 2025, the figure will rise by nearly 40% compared to 2010 – the steepest increase globally.

The number of deaths on the continent will double by 2030 in what the WHO describes as an ‘epidemic’.

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