The UK-based company British American Tobacco (BAT) has again been accused of using unjustified practices to dilute plans to limit the sales of its products in Kenya.
For the second time in two years, an exposé in the newspaper, the Guardian, says that BAT, along with other multinational tobacco firms “have threatened governments in at least eight countries in Africa demanding they axe or dilute the kind of protections that have saved millions of lives in the West.”
According to the report, BAT, one of the world’s leading cigarette manufacturers, is using the courts “to try to block the Kenyan and Ugandan governments’ attempts to bring in regulations to limit the harm caused by smoking.”
With sales in Europe and the US plummeting, the companies are looking to Africa, which has a fast-growing young and increasingly prosperous population to boost sales.
The Guardian claims that in one of the undisclosed court document in Kenya, which it has seen, BAT’s lawyers are demanding the country’s High Court “quash in its entirety” a package of anti-smoking regulations and what it calls a “capricious” tax plan.
The case is now before the Supreme Court after BAT Kenya lost in the High Court and the Appeal Court.
In neighbouring Uganda, BAT has claimed that Kampala’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 denies.
The Guardian report follows a BBC investigation in November 2015, which claimed that BAT illegally paid politicians and civil servants in countries in East Africa to boost sales. The payments were revealed when a whistleblower shared hundreds of secret documents.
At the time, BAT told the BBC: “The truth is that we do not and will not tolerate corruption, no matter where it takes place.”
BAT Kenya has approximately 450 full-time employees in Kenya. On its website it says that its operations have “always been guided by the highest standards of excellence.”
The Guardian says that 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 the 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 seven million people globally every year and there are an estimated 77 million smokers in Africa.
The Guardian pointed out that later this month, 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 $4 9billion deal, “and there are fears over the extent to which big tobacco can financially outmuscle health ministries in poorer nations”.
BAT is market leader in over 55 countries and in 2016 the Group generated reported revenue of £14.75 billion and adjusted profit of £5.48 billion.