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May 2nd, 2016:


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Investigate and sanction BAT appropriately – ERA/FoEN tells FG

As the British American Tobacco (BAT) celebrates another year of deadly profits on Wednesday, April 28, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) joined other anti-tobacco groups from Africa, United Kingdom and Latin America to demand government’s action to hold the corporation accountable.

Also on the heels of revelations of widespread bribery in Africa, the anti-tobacco group demanded that BAT be probed for the East African bribery scandal.

Speaking at a press briefing on Wednesday organised by ERA/FoEN in Lagos, Deputy Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi said, “As we speak today, British American Tobacco (BAT) is holding its Annual General Meeting (AGM) at Milton Court Concert Hall, Silk Street, in London, where it will announce huge profits from mortgaging the lungs of underage and mostly under-informed cigarette addicts.”

Catalogue of BAT Infractions

In 2015 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) aired an investigation on its Panorama, which detailed a host of bribery and espionage activities perpetrated by BAT on the African continent. In the expose a whistleblower and former staff of the company revealed a shameful bribery scam contrived and carefully implemented to thwart life-saving legislations in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Comoros Islands.

Paul Hopkins, who had worked for BAT in Kenya for 13 years described how BAT funded illegal corporate espionage and how its contractors bribed politicians and policymakers in the listed countries.

Emails Hopkins shared revealed the corporation made illegal payments running into thousands of dollars to compromise policy makers and in one case even demanded a draft copy of Burundi’s Tobacco Control Bill from its contact person in that country’s government to “accommodate.. amendments before the president signs.”

A Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) representative from Burundi, Godefroid Kamwenubusa, and a representative from the Comoros Islands, Chaibou Bedja Abdou, were alleged to have also received $3,000 while former representative from Rwanda, Bonaventure Nzeyimana, was paid $20,000. In return for the illegal payment to Kamwenubusa, a Burundian senior civil servant, BAT also wanted a draft copy of the country’s Tobacco Control Bill with an e-mail to the government official asking to “accommodate any amendments before the president signs.”

During the airing of the investigation on BBC Panorama, experts from the University of Bath’s leading Tobacco Control Research Group (TCRG) were available for media comment and interviews.

The report drew global condemnation on BAT with Dr. Vera Da Costa e Silva, from the WHO, saying BAT was irresponsible for using bribery to profit at the cost of people’s lives. She recommended that the corporation be investigated by the government and punished accordingly.

Undermining legislation

In April 2015 BAT Kenya Limited filed a petition at the Constitutional Court in the High Court of Kenya, Nairobi asking the court to declare the Tobacco Control Regulations which had been developed by the Kenyan Ministry of Health to facilitate the implementation of Tobacco Control Act 2007 as null and void either in its entirety or some particular sections of the regulation.

In the petition, BAT argued that the due process was not followed in the making of the regulations and that particular sections of the regulations contravened their rights as outlined in the Bill of Rights and other Articles of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and that they were therefore unconstitutional.

Before the suit, the regulations had been tabled in Parliament on 5th December 2014 and gazette as is required and were to take effect on 5 June 2015.

On 4th June 2015, a day before the Tobacco Control Regulations could take effect, a Judge issued conservatory orders suspending the implementation of the regulations (at the request of BAT) until the case is heard and determined

Among others, BAT wanted a regulation limiting interaction between the tobacco industry and public officers declared unconstitutional. That section of the regulation is in consonance with Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) which recommends that Parties “Prohibit government partnership or collaboration with the tobacco industry”

In the final ruling, the court ruled among others, that, according to the documents presented to it, there were various meetings during the framing of the regulations that BAT was represented in, and consulted.

Reports of public forums and other consultations were shared and the regulations were presented to Parliament which offered another platform for public participation through the Parliamentary process. It noted that in effect, there was sufficient public participation, hence, the Tobacco Control Regulations 2014 cannot be declared null and void on the basis of lack of sufficient public participation, among others.


In Uganda BAT, in conjunction with other leading tobacco companies, used considerable financial clout to oppose Dr. Chris Baryomunsi’s private member’s bill in 2014 aimed at curbing smoking in Uganda.

In a letter to Baryomunsi, BAT Uganda said that it will no longer do business with the 709 farmers in his Kihihi constituency that it normally buys from because the legislation he sponsored – and a related plan to raise tobacco taxes – has rendered the arrangement “increasingly less economically viable”.

BAT aim for writing Baryomunsi was to instigate farmers against him.

Bayormunsi’s bill recommends large health warnings covering 75% of the face of cigarette packets, prohibits smoking within 100 metres of public buildings, prohibit advertising, ban point of sale display marketing, raises the smoking age from 18 to 21 and limits interaction between the government and tobacco lobby.

Tobacco farmers’ groups, obviously backed by BAT lobbyists, claim the measures will put them out of business.

Oluwafemi however said, the above findings show that the company works openly and behind the scenes to thwart the WHO-FCTC.

“We therefore stand in full solidarity with our allies across the globe demanding BAT be probed for the East African bribery scandal. The probe must go beyond East Africa.

“The findings hitherto mentioned challenge governments on the continent, and particularly the Nigerian government to wake up and take action. We will not forget in a hurry, the torturous process of getting the National Tobacco Control Bill (now Tobacco Control Act) into law just as we will not forget the tens of hurriedly-formed BAT front groups deployed to fight taxation, ban on Tobacco Advertising Promotion and Sponsorships (TAPS) and other life-saving provisions from getting into the final document.”

ERA/FoEN also debunked the myth that a tobacco bill with strong provisions as recommended by the WHO-FCTC will lead to job and revenue losses.

The group demand that the federal government should. beam searchlight on BAT operations in West Africa and particularly in Nigeria where the corporation is involved in so-called anti-smuggling campaign and lobby to thwart increase in taxes.

“Government agencies should investigate all tax waivers or grants that were granted to BAT by past governments.

That government investigate all past dealings between BAT and government agencies with a view to prosecute any infraction against our laws. The Nigerian government, particularly the Ministry of Health remain unintimidated as it comes up with resolutions for the effective implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act.

“We also recommend a speedy drafting of the recommendations. BAT infractions and that of Philip Morris International which is identified to have illicitly imported cigarettes into Nigeria from Senegal be investigated and sanctioned appropriately,” Oluwafemi said.

Also speaking at the briefing, Head, Media & Communication, Mr Philip Jakpor said, when the NGO visited one of the villages tobacco is planted, “the farmers said they were not meant to speak with strangers. It shows that the truth about their dealings is not known by the public.

“Action must be taken and the more there is delay, the more they are allowed to take people’s lives for granted.”

Adding, Oluwafemi said, “one issue we cannot tire talking about is the menace of tobacco which continues to claim lives at an alarming rate globally.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about six million people die annually from tobacco –induced illnesses and what we know as second hand smoke is responsible for over 600,000 yearly deaths in non-smokers.

“Increasing deaths from tobacco correspond with huge profits the tobacco corporation make from marketing their deadly ware,” Oluwafemi said.

Austria’s new tobacco law comes under fire

A new tobacco law is being pushed through the Austrian parliament despite the fact that it contains a spelling mistake that might make implementing the law a bit difficult.

The mistake in the spelling of the font name Helvetica – which was translated into German and written as Helvetika in the bill – means that the font the government says cigarette brands must use to warn customers of health risks does not actually exist.

A request by one parliamentarian from an opposition party to have the bill corrected before being passed by the national council was rejected by the government.

“I intended to correct this obvious mistake, but the ruling parties and the FPÖ rejected our motion to amend the law accordingly. I couldn’t believe it,” said Gerald Loacker, MP for the NEOS party.

“It’s typical for the ruling parties, the social democrats and conservatives, to reject any proposal that comes from an opposition party. But refusing to admit spelling mistakes reaches a new level of stubbornness.”

The new law tobacco law, due to be implemented from the end of May 2017, is an anti-smoking measure and stipulates all cigarette packets should have ‘shock pictures’ on them and carry the warning “Smoking is deadly – quit now.”

E-cigarettes subject to “massive restrictions”

The changes to the law also affect the sale of e-cigarettes and vaporizers, often used by people to try and quit normal cigarettes as they usually contain nicotine but no harmful tar chemicals.

According to the NEOS, the vape sector in Austria will undergo huge changes as a result of this law.

“All vape products will be subject to massive restrictions by the new tobacco law, even if they come without nicotine,” says Loacker.

The NEOs spokesperson for health and care Elias von der Locht told the Local: “Mail orders, which are right now the most important distribution channel, will be completely banned by May.”

“This will probably destroy the small Austrian companies in this sector and make it easy for big tobacco corporations to take over the market, because they control the supply for all the small tobacco stores – trafik – in Austria.”

With every e-cigarette and liquid used in the device now needing official approval by the Ministry of Health, the party is also concerned the law will dramatically shrink the range of products for customers.

Customers buying e-cigarettes or liquids in a specialist store will also not be allowed to test them, despite customers buying normal cigarettes being allowed to test them in the small tobacco shops.

Von der Locht is also critical of the fact that any kind of promotion for e-cigarettes will be banned, including on websites, in news and articles, on Facebook, and anything else “that can influence people to buy e-cigarettes or liquids”.

Supporters of the new bill argue that e-cigarettes must also be included, however, as they can also cause harm.

Green politician Eva Mückstein argued in parliament that the chemicals inside e-cigarettes are dangerous and studies show that using the devices can be a stepping stone for people who go on to smoke normal cigarettes.

Appropriations Trickery in Congress

It is an old congressional ritual: loading up vital spending bills that are meant to keep the government running with dangerous amendments aimed at satisfying ideological causes and benefiting special interests.

The Republicans have become adept at this practice in recent years, and this year is no different. Legislative riders attached to appropriations bills would undermine the Iran nuclear deal, weaken highway safety and reduce the Food and Drug Administration’s authority over tobacco products.

These measures would be unlikely to succeed as stand-alone bills, either because they could not get enough votes on their own or because President Obama would veto them. So better to sneak them in without even holding hearings to make a case on their behalf.

Thankfully, Democratic lawmakers and public interest groups are calling attention to these stealth attacks. In the Senate, Democrats managed on Wednesday to block a vote on a water and energy spending bill after Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, tried to attach a provision that would have dealt a severe blow to the Iran nuclear deal. Mr. Cotton’s measure would have blocked the administration from purchasing heavy water used in Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iran has to get rid of the water to comply with the deal. By denying Iran an American market, Mr. Cotton and other Republicans hoped to undermine the deal, which they hate.

The Senate will soon consider a transportation bill containing a rider that could prevent the Department of Transportation from reinstating a rule aimed at making roads safer by requiring that truckers get adequate rest — two nights of rest after working 60 hours over seven consecutive days or 70 hours over eight consecutive days.

The rule took effect in July 2013, but it was suspended by Congress in December 2014. The rider bars the administration from reinstating the rule unless it can show that it produced a “statistically significant” improvement in safety and driver health during the brief time it was in place.

That is a ridiculously high burden to meet. If the provision becomes law, it will be impossible for the government to issue basic regulations to make sure compa…..

And the House Appropriations Committee recently passed an agriculture and food spending bill that would make it very hard for the F.D.A. to regulate tobacco products. A rider attached in committee would forbid the agency from regulating “large and premium cigars”; another would rewrite a 2009 law that gave the agency the authority to approve or reject tobacco products that have entered the market after Feb. 15, 2007. This would include electronic cigarettes, for which the agency has proposed regulations.

To prevent the agency from taking e-cigarettes off the market and effectively grandfather them in, Republican lawmakers want to require pre-approval only for products that come out after the F.D.A. issues its final e-cigarette rules, which could be later this year. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the devices are now more popular than conventional cigarettes with middle- and high-school students.

Riders like these are not harmless passengers on legislative vehicles. They can and will do real damage if they are allowed to succeed.

Australia’s prohibition of e-cigarettes is out of step with the evidence

A new report by the Royal College of Physicians in the United Kingdom says electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are much safer than smoking and encourages their widespread use by smokers. It concludes that e-cigarettes have huge potential to prevent death and disease from tobacco use.

The review identifies e-cigarettes as a valuable tool to help smokers quit. For those who are unable to quit with currently available methods, e-cigarettes can substitute for smoking by providing the nicotine to which smokers are addicted without the smoke that causes almost all of the harm. This approach is supported by the scientific and public health community in the UK and is consistent with a previous review by Public Health England, the government health agency.

E-cigarettes are the most commonly used aid to quit smoking in the UK. According to the new review, evidence available so far suggests e-cigarettes are at least as effective as nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches or chewing gum. More than one million people have quit smoking in the UK using e-cigarettes. Quit rates are likely to be even higher with professional counselling and with more advanced devices.

E-cigarettes have been available in the UK since 2007 as a general consumer product – with some additional restrictions on advertising and minimum age of sale. They’re used almost exclusively in the UK by smokers who are trying to cut down or quit smoking, or who have quit smoking.

Concerns about e-cigarettes

In Australia, e-cigarettes containing nicotine are prohibited. Most Australian health organisations such as the National Heart Foundation, Cancer Council Australia and the Australian Medical Association take a very risk-averse approach based on potential harms. They say e-cigarettes could be a gateway to smoking for non-smokers; they may make the act of smoking socially acceptable again (renormalisation); there may be unknown long-term safety risks; and dual use may delay quitting.

The new review explores the evidence for these concerns and says they are mostly unfounded.

In the UK, there is no evidence e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking. E-cigarette use is almost entirely restricted to current or past smokers. Use by children who would not otherwise have smoked appears to be minimal.

The report found no evidence to suspect the use of e-cigarettes renormalises smoking. On the contrary, smoking rates in the UK have been falling as e-cigarette use rises.

E-cigarette vapour contains some toxins and the report acknowledges some harm from long-term use cannot be dismissed. However, it supports the widely held view that the hazard to health is unlikely to exceed 5% of the risk of smoking, and may well be substantially lower. This level of harm is similar to nicotine replacement therapy and is likely to reduce with further technological advances. Similarly, the report concludes the harm to bystanders from vapour exposure is negligible.

Many e-cigarette users continue to smoke as well for a period of time (dual use) but there is no evidence this has reduced the number of smokers who quit. Indeed, dual use is often a transitional phase and many users will go on to quit completely as is the case of smokers concurrently using nicotine replacement therapy. A recent study found dual use reduces smoking intake and is less hazardous.

Implications for Australia

Australia has a comprehensive tobacco control policy including high tobacco taxes, mass media campaigns and smoke-free policies that stimulate quit attempts. However, smoking is highly addictive and most of Australia’s three million smokers try and fail repeatedly to quit, even with existing therapies

Based on the UK experience, e-cigarettes could assist many Australian smokers to quit or could replace cigarettes with a much safer source of nicotine. This could potentially save many thousands of lives each year.

As established smokers are more likely to be socioeconomically disadvantaged or to have mental health problems, the burden of disease falls disproportionately on these groups who have higher levels of addiction to nicotine and greater difficulty quitting.

The precautionary position taken by Australian health organisations and governments is not supported by the available evidence and overseas experience. The growing evidence for safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes significantly outweighs any potential risks to public health.

A rational, evidence-based approach would be to make e-cigarettes available in Australia as consumer products and to encourage their use while minimising uptake by people who would not otherwise have used nicotine products. Ongoing monitoring and appropriate proportionate regulation would help minimise any risks.

E-cigarettes represent a massive opportunity for Australian smokers and have the potential for large-scale improvements in individual and public health, and social inequality. We cannot afford not to embrace them.

Giving big tobacco a fight

The densely packed houses along Yogyakarta’s Kali Code River went from drab to a riot of reds, blues, yellows and whites.

Residents did not know who had paid for the elaborate paint job last year. The Yogyakarta press speculated that an unknown company had painted the houses so they
would resemble the colorful favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

It turns out the village’s benefactor was Philip Morris International and its “Show Your Colours” advertising campaign. On the side of the Gondolayu bridge that overlooks the settlements sits a giant picture frame, with tag lines hung above it reading, “Create your own story” and “Go ahead.”

The village had been transformed into a giant advertisement for a brand owned by the tobacco company.

The ads were another aggressive marketing attempt by an international tobacco company to gain market share in Indonesia. The country is the second-largest cigarette market in Asia after China, and had the highest male smoking rate in the world — 67%, according to a 2011 survey — thanks in part to the popularity of pungent clove cigarettes.

Over the last decade, it has become a last Eden for tobacco companies facing declining smoking rates at home. As late as 2004, international tobacco companies had a marginal presence in the Indonesian market. Today, led by Philip Morris International, they control around 45%. Yet that push has been met by an increasingly potent coalition of mayors, health officials and anti-smoking groups that has scored some important victories.

In one prominent example, huge cigarette billboards that dominated the highways of Jakarta, the capital, were taken down in 2015, as part of a move to ban outdoor tobacco advertisements by mayors around the country.

Many of the lobbying efforts that led to local regulations, including in Jakarta, were substantially financed by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, the US$600 million (21 billion baht) fund founded by Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor.

The Bloomberg Initiative has designated Indonesia one of its five priority countries, and has donated more than $10 million since 2007. The initiative is largely focused on establishing local and regional tobacco control laws in a nation with a highly decentralised government structure.

“It’s a battle — like a war,” Yayi Prabandari, a professor of public health at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, said of the clash between tobacco companies and tobacco control organisations.

Before the Bloomberg Initiative became active in the country nearly 10 years ago, fewer than 10 cities had laws that restricted smoking in public areas, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which jointly administers the Bloomberg Initiative’s grant programmes in Indonesia. Since then, the group says, more than 170 cities have passed laws heavily restricting smoking in public spaces.

Yet tobacco growing has deep roots here. Indonesia is one of the few countries in Asia that has not signed the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on
Tobacco Control, which mandates strict limits on tobacco advertising and sponsorship.

The Bloomberg Initiative has also created a backlash from smokers’ rights groups, who portray Mr Bloomberg as a foreign oligarch determined to stamp out Indonesia’s proud tobacco tradition.

“People who smoke today are stigmatised — we’re discriminated against,” said Alfa Gumilang, the chain-smoking secretary-general of Komunitas Kretek, a smokers’ rights group that accepts funds from the tobacco industry.

The Indonesian government relies on the tobacco industry for around 10% of state tax revenue. Although tobacco is not nationalised, the government issues growth targets; in 2015, the Industry Ministry released a “road map” for the industry calling for expanded cigarette production.

In October, President Joko Widodo visited the United States to promote US investment in Indonesia. While he was there, Philip Morris announced a $1.9 billion expansion of its tobacco factories in the country — the second-largest investment that Mr Joko secured from a US corporation during his visit.

Philip Morris’ success — it controls 35% of Indonesia’s tobacco market through its local subsidiary, Sampoerna — ushered in a new age of foreign expansion. In 2009, British American Tobacco purchased Bentoel, a local tobacco company that is now Indonesia’s fourth largest, with around 7.5% market share.

According to Health Ministry officials, Indonesia’s fragmented government ministries often work at cross purposes when tackling the issue. Because of the difficulty of making sweeping changes to tobacco control laws nationally, Indonesia tobacco control advocates are increasingly pushing for changes at the local and regional levels, where money from the Bloomberg Initiative comes in handy.

Dr Theresia Sandra, a specialist in chronic lung disease at the Health Ministry, credits the Bloomberg Initiative with helping local governments counter the influence of big tobacco. The group “builds organisations to balance against the strength of industry and opens local governments to the necessity of protecting their communities”, Dr Sandra said.

In one national success, the Indonesian government, with help from the Bloomberg Initiative, passed a law in 2014 requiring manufacturers to put warning labels on cigarette packaging. The tobacco fight in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, even extends to the country’s most powerful Muslim organisations, and shows just how central the issue is for society and the economy.

Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organisation, became the first major Muslim group in the country to issue an edict declaring that smoking is forbidden in all circumstances, citing smoking’s devastating consequences to public health.

The 2010 decision was significant: Muhammadiyah operates thousands of schools, universities and hospitals around the country. Almost overnight, those places became smoke-free zones. But the Indonesian media quickly pounced on a funding detail.

Posted on the Bloomberg Initiative’s website was a $393,000 grant to Muhammadiyah in 2009. According to Bloomberg’s website at the time, the grant sought “the issuance and dissemination of religious advice on the dangers of tobacco use among Muhammadiyah/Islamic institutions”.

Critics accused Muhammadiyah of seeking to unite Muslim opinion against tobacco in return for the grant money. Dr Sudibyo Markus, who led Muhammadiyah’s health department at the time, said there had never been any quid pro quo.

Meanwhile, religious leaders affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama, Muhammadiyah’s main rival, criticised Muhammadiyah for supposedly bowing to Bloomberg’s money. But Nahdlatul Ulama, which does not view smoking as forbidden in most circumstances, receives funding from the foundation wing of Djarum, Indonesia’s third-largest tobacco company. The group’s vice chairman, Maksum Mahfudh, said there was “no relationship whatsoever” between the funding and its decision that it would not forbid smoking.