Tobacco control advocates and health organisations are reacting strongly to the damning report on BAT activities in Africa, British American Tobacco in South Africa: Any Means Necessary, published by global tobacco industry watchdog STOP. BAT activities are further exposed in an investigation by BBC Panorama: Dirty Secrets of the Cigarette Business. BAT, one of the world’s largest tobacco companies, appears to have crossed the line of ethics and legality to keep people addicted to its products, stifling attempts to reduce tobacco use. According to the reports, BAT used potentially questionable payments to try to influence tobacco control policies and undermine competitors. The company allegedly paid varying amounts to politicians, journalists, competitors’ staff and more. Analysis of leaked industry documents and court affidavits suggests BAT was engaged in possibly illegal informant networks, state capture and the potential smuggling of its own products in Africa. As is to be expected, BAT has denied the charges.
The National Council Against Smoking (NCAS) is calling for British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA) to be investigated by the HAWKS and the Special Investigation Unit for allegations of bribery, illegal surveillance on competitors, and criminal activities. “It is not surprising that BAT is once again entangled in such accusations,” says Dr Sharon Nyatsanza, project and communications manager at NCAS. “Decades of tobacco industry interference tactics with policy are well-documented, and it is disappointing that not much is being done to stop the industry from meddling behind the scenes, and weakening public health policy. The reports must set in motion investigations and corporations must be held accountable for their role in corruption. Although BAT has denied these charges, it is difficult not to conclude that the usual way for BAT to do business in Africa is through corruption, and this will likely continue except the company is investigated and charged.”
“It’s clear that BAT has resorted to desperate measures to keep selling their products,” says Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA). “It also seems that former SARS official Johann van Loggerenberg certainly had valid points to make when he drew attention to this very issue and the extent of the deceitfulness of the tobacco industry. The more we expose what is actually going on and has gone on in the past, the more we can protect our people, and especially our youth.”
Lorraine Govender, National Manager of Health Promotion for the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), says “Tobacco is responsible for over 16 types of cancers. The devastating effects of cancer in South Africa is picking up speed. The rate of death from cancer among men and women and all racial groups and for many types of cancers, including lung cancer, continues to rise. We are certainly witnessing the aftermath of BAT’s alleged dubious activities. The cost of their unscrupulous activities should not only be measured in rands and cents, but also the irreplaceable loss of human lives that forever alters communities.”
Zanele Mthembu, Public Health Policy and Development Consultant, says African governments should take the BAT reports seriously, particularly in South Africa where BATSA holds more than 70% of the market share, and where smoking rates and related deaths remain high. About one in five people smoke cigarettes, according to the South Africa Demographic and Health Survey.
“Every year, tobacco-related diseases kill about 42 100 people in South Africa. These diseases cost the South African economy R42 billion each year. This is money which government could rather use for the socio-economic development of the nation, including poverty eradication initiatives, supporting education initiatives, and building township and rural economies, amongst others,” says Mthembu. “BAT’s dirty tactics are a clear demonstration of a multinational corporation whose sole purpose is to sell and profit through disease, disability and death. We implore our government to save South Africa by passing the long awaited Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill, published in 2018 – or to at least process the Bill to Cabinet by the end of 2021.”
Mthembu says, ‘’The alleged criminal activities by BAT are a clear demonstration that the South African government should adopt an all-of-government approach both to tobacco control and to dealing with the tobacco industry. Further, as civil society, we believe that the 2018 Tobacco Control Bill should include matters pertaining to prevention of policy interference by the tobacco industry, in line with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which was ratified by the South African Parliament in 2005.”
Prof Lekan Ayo-Yusuf, Director of the Africa Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research (ATIM) at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University says, “The tobacco industry’s political influence is consistently identified as a key barrier to effective implementation of the WHO FCTC in several African countries. The STOP report again shows that South Africa is no different. We cannot allow the political influence of tobacco companies to weaken, delay, and prevent the introduction of critical public health measures to serve their profit goals. Enhancing governments’ capacity to monitor the industry’s political activities and curb undue influence on government officials is key to insulate the development and implementation of public health policies from interference by tobacco industry.”
Dr Catherine Egbe of the Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council says that the actions of the tobacco industry continue to stifle progress in reducing tobacco use. “Better tobacco control could reduce the power tobacco companies such as BAT have to infringe on the rights of vulnerable populations and we need strong and persistent government action to protect current and future generations from the devastating consequences of tobacco. Passing South Africa’s Tobacco Control Bill would be a critical step to defending our nation’s right to health, better protecting South African citizens from the unscrupulous actions of tobacco companies.”
Sanele Zulu, Chairperson of the South African Tobacco Free Youth Forum says, “We are very disheartened to see the depth of the allegations against BAT. This is proof that the tobacco industry only cares about profits, and not about the lives and livelihoods of our people. While this is supposed to demoralise us from advocating for tobacco control and the eradication of youth nicotine addiction, we are even more determined to fight for the Tobacco Control Bill to be passed to ensure that lives are saved.”
About Protect our Next:
The new Control of Tobacco and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill will make it easier for South Africans to choose smoke-free lives, regulate the danger of e-cigarettes and decrease the impact of second-hand smoke on the majority of the population, who are non-smokers. Tobacco industry profits are at the expense of addicted smokers, their families, and public health. Together, the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa are steadfast in campaigning for the new Bill to be passed. It’s time for our people and our government to show leadership in implementing global best practice to curb the onslaught of big tobacco.
About the Bill:
The Tobacco Control Bill requires that any enclosed public area is 100% smoke-free, and will make certain outdoor public places smoke-free too, providing protection for many South Africans who are often involuntarily exposed to second-hand smoke. It removes the requirement to provide for smoking areas in all enclosed public places, workplaces and on public conveyances and applies the 100% smoking ban to common areas of multi-unit residences. It further prohibits smoking in private dwellings used for commercial child care or education, and in cars carrying children under 18, rather than under 12.
The Bill introduces uniform plain packaging for all brands and pictorial warnings on all packages. Cigarette advertising at tills and the sale of cigarettes through vending machines will be prohibited. Importantly, the Bill also includes the regulation of e-cigarettes and when passed, e-cigarettes will finally be regulated.
AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW:
Sharon Nyatsanza (PhD), Project & Communications Manager, NCAS
Zanele Mthembu, Public Health Policy and Development Consultant
Professor Lekan Ayo-Yusuf, Director of the Africa Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research (ATIM) at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University
Dr Catherine Egbe, Specialist Scientist: Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drug Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council
Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO, The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa
Lorraine Govender, National Advocacy Co-Ordinator, CANSA
Sanele Zulu, Convenor: South African Tobacco Free Youth Forum
Tamaryn Brown – firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com