Opinion

Personal views from University of Bath researchers on the news of the day

Tobacco industry activities in Africa uncovered

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📥  Public Policy

Tonight's BBC 1 Panorama reveals evidence of bribery and corruption from British American Tobacco (BAT) in East and Central Africa. Here Professor Anna Gilmore of the University's Tobacco Control Research Group (TCRG) comments on the significance of the latest revelations.

Following years of rumours to the effect, tonight’s Panorama reveals the first concrete evidence that the industry has been bribing policy-makers and senior government officials in Africa.

The revelations that British American Tobacco (BAT) has used bribery and corruption to influence the political process in East and Central Africa poses serious questions for policy-makers in this country and across Africa. The activities detailed would appear to be illegal under the 2010 UK Bribery Act.

This is not the first time that that BAT has been found to be involved in illegal activities. Its extensive involvement in global cigarette smuggling has previously been widely documented. Yet it managed to silence the government’s inquiry into cigarette smuggling. This time it is essential that a full and public inquiry is held.

Many African countries have shown a massive commitment to implementing tobacco control legislation in order to stall their growing epidemics of tobacco related deaths. Yet they have struggled to make progress. Now we start to understand why.

Over recent years, as tobacco control legislation has been tightened in the developed world, as researchers in this area we’ve observed a definite shift in attention from Big Tobacco to focus marketing and advertising efforts in less developed countries. Africa is key to the tobacco industry’s future and this is particularly the case for BAT, the market leader in the region.

According to the WHO, the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced killing 6 million people a year. Nearly 80 per cent of the more than 1 billion smokers worldwide now live in low- and middle- income countries where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest.

Members of the TCRG played an advisory role on the programme.

For more on the work of the Group see the Tobacco Tactics website.

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