Big Tobacco blocks treaty progress towards saving lives

For Immediate Release:
October 4, 2010

Contact:
Christina Rossi, 617-447-2540

Good afternoon. I am Philip Jakpor. I am calling in today from Lagos, Nigeria and I represent the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN),  a Nigerian advocacy non-governmental organisation campaigning for the protection of the environment and sustainable societies.

ERA is a member of the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals and the co-coordinating NGO for the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NTCA), a coalition of tobacco and cancer organisations seeking to influence policy decisions on tobacco-related issues in Nigeria.

In the last ten years, ERA has exposed tobacco industry antics to conscript new smokers through the glamorization of smoking on set, so-called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities and “partnerships” that are deployed as a strategy of cozying up to Nigerian government agencies in contravention of Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

Tobacco transnational corporations like British American Tobacco (BAT) have targeted Africa as an expansion and growth market for development, distribution and marketing in large part because of the limited tobacco control measures on the continent. Tobacco kills 5.4 million people annually, most of them in the developing nations of Africa and recent statistics indicate that 9.2 per cent of young people in Africa smoke compared with 6.5 per cent for Western Pacific, 5.0 per cent for the Eastern Mediterranean and 4.3 per cent for Southeast Asia. It is only surpassed by the Americas region which has 17.5 per cent.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one in five young Nigerians smoke, with the numbers of young women smokers having risen 10-fold during the 1990s.
Last August, BAT Nigeria hosted a clandestine smoking party for underage youth at a dance hall in Ajegunle a slummy suburb of Lagos, Nigeria. Inside the smoke filled dance hall, skimpily-dressed young women welcomed youngsters who were named ‘consumers’. The young women offered the consumers the Pall Mall brand of cigarette and immediately lit it up. In spite of global outrage against the smoking party, in September BAT organised another smoking party in a hotel in Victoria Island, Lagos that it called “Golden Experience”.

These events are a shameless disregard for public health and violate the global tobacco treaty which Nigeria signed in 2004 and ratified in 2005. And this is not the first time BAT Nigeria has organized these secret smoking parties. It did so in 2003, 2005 and 2008.
BAT is not only hooking our youth on its deadly products with these so-called parties, it is also infiltrating respected public health organizations.

In March 2010, the African tobacco control community made an alarming discovery: Barbara McDougall, the chair of the board of a prominent Canadian development organization (International Development Research Centre – IDRC) funding tobacco control efforts in countries around the globe, was also serving as a director of a BAT subsidiary. This cross-appointment went on for more than two years and according to internal tobacco industry documents, BAT had infiltrated this development organization as far back as 1996 and considered a position on IDRC's board a valuable point of access to the government.

In a show of continental unity and a commitment to the integrity of the treaty, the African public health community returned IDRC funding.
Illustrating ongoing solidarity, NGOs across the continent are organizing actions across Africa as part of the week of action.

  • In Nigeria activists are calling for the passage of National Tobacco Control Bill and will hold press conferences and rallies in two states: Abuja, the federal capital territory and Lagos where several smoking parties have held.  The petition to be delivered in Abuja will urge the lawmakers to pass the tobacco bill while that of Lagos will call on lawmakers to promulgate a law prohibiting all smoking parties in the state.
  • In Kenya the Tobacco Control Act was passed into law, but there are now renewed efforts by the tobacco industry to push for a revision of the law in a bid to water it down. Actions here will expose and denounce the tactics used by the tobacco industry to frustrate the full implementation of the treaty.
  • In Ghana activists will organize a series of media outreach events and will send letters to government officials calling for the swift approval of the national tobacco control bill – and to stand firm against interference by BAT and other tobacco industry allies.

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