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February 6th, 2016:

British American Tobacco faces call for bribery allegations inquiry

US congressmen demand investigation by justice department into Africa claims

One of the UK’s largest companies, British American Tobacco (BAT) is facing demands that it be investigated by the US Department of Justice, following allegations that it engaged in widespread bribery of politicians and policymakers in Africa.

Several Democratic senators and congressmen have written a letter calling for the department to launch an immediate investigation into BAT, the world’s second-largest publicly traded tobacco company, which has its headquarters in London.

The politicians, led by congressman Lloyd Doggett and senator Richard Blumenthal, suggest that BAT’s actions may have violated both the Anti-Bribery and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Acts (FCPA). If proven, the allegations – denied by BAT – could result in jail terms for the company’s executives.

Some of the allegations about BAT’s activities in parts of Africa first surfaced in a BBC Panorama documentary last year. Since then, US lawmakers say that additional documents have come to light, which they claim suggest alleged bribery may have been more widespread than previously thought.

It is alleged that the documents raise questions as to whether BAT paid people off to protect its corporate reputation and to cover up scandals, including environmental damage caused by a warehouse fire in Uganda. There are also claims that the company engaged in corporate espionage and the sabotage of competitors in Kenya. “If true, these allegations would demonstrate a deplorable choice by BAT to balloon its profits through bribery at the expense of the health of millions,” said Doggett. “Any corporation that enjoys the benefits of our stock exchange must comply with our anti-bribery laws.”

The US is a signatory to the World Health Organisation’s global tobacco treaty, set up to stop tobacco companies from influencing policy. The treaty, which protects more than 90% of the world’s population, could save 200 million lives by 2050 if fully implemented. But measures to undermine it, by illegally influencing politicians, limit the treaty’s impact.

“The tobacco industry has a long history of placing profits above public health and these allegations raise clear questions about whether BAT violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – a question the DoJ must answer,” said Blumenthal, who sits on the judiciary committee which oversees the FCPA.

“With tobacco companies exploiting growth opportunities in Africa, actions like BAT’s threaten to undermine the WHO’s global tobacco treaty and condemn the entire continent to generations of smoking, cancer and preventable death.”

Smoking-related diseases cause six million deaths a year worldwide, making tobacco the largest preventable cause of death, according to health experts. Successfully expanding operations in Africa is crucial to the future fortunes of big tobacco. The number of adult smokers on the continent is projected to increase from 77 million in 2013 to 572 million by the end of the century.

Pressure groups seeking to check big tobacco’s influence would welcome a Department of Justice investigation. “In the 1990s, the public health movement exposed big tobacco’s lies about nicotine’s addictiveness and tobacco’s links to cancer, sparking a cascade of litigation and US tobacco control policies,” said John Stewart, deputy campaign director of Corporate Accountability International. “This investigation could be the next critical chapter in holding this deadly industry accountable for its abuses, preventing the expansion of the single largest preventable epidemic on the planet.”

A British American Tobacco spokesman said that the company would comply with any investigation.

“We have not heard from the US Department of Justice regarding any of the historic allegations made by Panorama last year but, if we do, we will of course cooperate with them,” the spokesman said. “In the meantime, we take the allegations of historic misconduct in East Africa extremely seriously and are working with our external legal counsel to fully investigate all these claims.”

Smoking results in staggering costs over a lifetime

The average California tobacco smoker will lose more than US$1.5 million over a lifetime, including the cumulative cost of a pack per day, health care expenditures, income losses and other costs, according to an analysis by the personal finance website WalletHub.

“The loss of life, the cost of medical care, the loss of productivity is enormous,” Humboldt County Public Health Officer Dr. Donald Baird said.

Each year, WalletHub reports the True Cost of Smoking by State, tallying the societal and economic impacts that total more than $320 billion a year involving some 66 million tobacco users in the U.S.

The states ranged from Louisiana at the lowest with $1.23 million total cost per smoker to New York at $2.45 million lost over a lifetime. California was right in the middle at $1,512,519.

The American Lung Association, meanwhile, last week released its State of Tobacco Control, a yearly report card the federal government and all 50 states on key tobacco control policies.

The group gave the state mostly failing grades because elected officials are doing too little to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

Anti-smoking activists want the tobacco tax increased by $2 per pack and the extra money earmarked for funding for tobacco prevention and control, and tobacco-related disease research and treatments. They also want to increase the purchase age of tobacco from 18 to 21 and have restrictions on the sale of electronic cigarettes and flavored tobacco products. And they want to expand access and coverage of tobacco cessation treatments and services for all Medi-Cal recipients.

Many resources and support services are available in Humboldt County for smokers who want to kick the habit, Baird said. In addition to county public health clinics, free Quit Kits are available at the College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State University student health centers from the American Cancer Society and through the Open Door Health clinics.

The most effective way for people to quit smoking combines cessation counseling with nicotine replacement therapy or medications, which can help people fight the craving for tobacco, ease withdrawal symptoms and keep people from using tobacco again.

“Scare tactics don’t work in helping people quit. People need support,” Baird said. “No. 1, the person has to want to quit.”

Dr. Elie Richa, an oncologist with Humboldt Medical Specialists, said smoking causes more than lung cancer. Other cancers related to smoking affect the head, neck, kidneys and bladder because that’s where all of those cancer-causing substances collect before being excreted from the body.

People using electronic cigarettes still are exposing themselves to nicotine, heated and aerosolized propylene glycol and glycerol, Richa said.

The long-term health consequences of e-cigarette use are unknown, Richa said. The toxicity of chronic exposure to those components and other elements in e-cigarettes is uncertain, he said.

Wallethub’s calculations are based on an adult who smokes one pack of cigarettes per day beginning at age 18, when a person can legally purchase tobacco products. The analysis assumes a lifespan of an additional 51 years because 69 is the average age at which a smoker dies.

Out-of-pocket costs are the average cost of a pack of cigarettes per state, multiplied by the total number of days in 51 years. Financial opportunity lost is determined by the amount of return a person would have earned by investing that money in the stock market. Health care cost per smoker are direct medical costs to treat smoking-related health complications based on state-level data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Studies show smoking can lead to loss of income from absenteeism, workplace bias or lower productivity because of smoking-induced health problems.

Nonsmokers are generally entitled to a homeowner’s insurance credit of 5 percent to 15 percent, according to the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.

When he was 14 years old, Baird used a financial tactic to get his father, an accountant, to quit. Baird wanted a ski boat, and he calculated how long it would take if his father quit smoking to accrue the money needed to buy the boat.

“I was appealing to the way he thought,” Baird said.

Baird had his share to contribute to the boat fund, but a year later, they reached their goal. Most importantly, his father kicked the habit, and he made his son make one other vow.

“He made me promise that I would never smoke myself,” Baird said. “It’s the best deal I ever made in my lifetime.”