• Kenya was the first African nation to ratify WHO’s plan to curb smoking
• But Kenya is reliant on $1 billion in taxes on BAT
• Allegations that Big Tobacco is attempting to block anti-smoking regulations in Kenya, even bribing some politicians
In Lighting Up, Kenyan journalist Purity Mwambia examines how Big Tobacco attempts to block anti-smoking regulations in Kenya, with allegations that some politicians may have been taking money from the industry.
British American Tobacco (BAT) is a pillar of the Kenyan economy, employing some 80 000 people and generating over $1 billion a year in taxes for the government. Africa is the most rapidly growing market for cigarettes and Kenya’s cigarette factories supply 16 neighbouring countries.
Kenya was the first African nation to ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the World Health Organisation’s global plan to curb smoking, and has been trying to introduce regulations that would strengthen its tobacco control measures. These include putting graphic images on cigarette packets; banning advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco; and imposing a two percent health tax on every packet.
“If you get one shilling from the tobacco industry as tax, you have to spend more than three shillings to offset the health damages,” says Tobacco Control Board chairperson Professor Peter Odhiambo. “We are already sitting on an epidemic of the cancers from tobacco. The tobacco problem is the most silent undeclared disaster in Kenya and therefore the more we delay the more we will see Kenyans dying.”
Mwambia discovers Big Tobacco is fighting back. This month British American Tobacco, the biggest manufacturer in Kenya, has taken the Health Minister to the High Court, delaying the introduction of the regulations.
In July last year, MPs on the Health Committee received an invitation to an all expenses trip to the UK by British American Tobacco (BAT). Health Committee MP Stephen Mule was angered. “The tobacco industry was not honest. Why do you want to spend money to take us to UK, when you can invite us to the factory, which is thirty minutes away?”
Professor Anna Gilmore of Bath University Tobacco Research Group claims attempts by the tobacco industry to influence politicians introducing tobacco control measures are nothing new. She points to Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which is all about protecting public health policies from the tobacco industry. “It is in the treaty because of overwhelming evidence that the tobacco industry has for years attempted to prevent governments from implementing effective policies. At the end of the day the tobacco industry is all about profit. It has to sell as many cigarettes as possible as profitably as possible and the evidence shows that it will stop at nothing in order to maximize its sales and profits.”
Mwambia discoveres this may also include making alleged unlawful payments to politicians. Former BAT security expert Paul Hopkins spent 14 years with BAT in Kenya. Hopkins says he witnessed these payments from the BAT’s Corporate and Regulatory Affairs team CORA.
“They will take Ministers and Government officials on supposedly workshops to lovely hotels along the coast to Mombasa and give them holidays. They’ll also, of course you know, pay them money.”
Hopkins alleges that CORA asked him to make untraceable cash payments to what he was told were lobbyists who have helped them in Burundi, Comoros and Uganda. However he later found out that they were “sitting government ministers” and these were “unlawful bribes.”
BAT says that the people who made these payments were acting against company policy and that the information came from”former employees with a clear vendetta against us, whose employment was terminated in acrimonious circumstances and who present a completely false picture of the way BAT does business.”
Africa Investigates is a groundbreaking Al Jazeera series that gives some of Africa’s best journalists the opportunity to pursue high-level investigative targets across the continent – using their unique perspective and local knowledge to put corruption, exploitation and abuse under the spotlight. Previous documentaries in the series have won One World Media and Mohamed Amin Africa Media awards.
Source: Al Jazeera