By Rachel Rose Jackson
Researchers suggest British American Tobacco has undue influence over the Kenyan government and is in breach of WHO tobacco convention
More than 50 years after Kenya gained independence from British colonial rule, one company is steadfastly refusing to loosen its grip on power in the country: British American Tobacco (BAT).
BAT’s desire to protect its share of the lucrative market puts it in direct opposition to the World Health Organisation, whose groundbreaking Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) came into force in 2005. All but two of the 47 countries in the WHO African region have ratified the treaty.
Kenya’s efforts to try to introduce tobacco control legislation that regulates the marketing and sale of tobacco products is being fiercely resisted by BAT and other tobacco companies, which see Kenya as a key frontier for profit growth. Consequently legislation in the country has repeatedly been thwarted by the tobacco industry, of which BAT is the major player.
Kenya’s Tobacco Control Act 2007 took more than 13 years to be passed, largely due to what has been labelled by the Kenya Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation as “intimidation” and “interference” from the tobacco industry.
tried to introduce regulations that already exist in much of the western world, such as required text warnings on cigarette packets, designated smoking zones in public places and the prohibition of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. However, since its creation, implementation has been remarkably difficult due to tobacco industry interference.
More recently, Kenyan policymakers have been trying to pass new regulations, which would strengthen the evidence-based framework established by the existing act.
The tobacco industry’s main quarrels with the new regulations include: the imposition of a small financial contribution of 2% of the value of manufactured and imported tobacco products, which would go towards mitigating the consequences caused by the products the industry sells; the requirement of standard graphic health warnings as many people cannot read text warnings; and the necessary restriction of the tobacco industry’s involvement in the policy-making process.
The tobacco companies’ current tactics of interference in Kenya include:
Getting senior government officials to lobby on their behalf
At the start of February 2015, the Kenyan Ministry of Health received a letter from the president’s office, requesting a meeting to “come up with a common understanding” on the new regulations and to discuss concerns listed in a briefing passed on from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
This document proposed that the regulations be withdrawn completely or redeveloped in collaboration with stakeholders, of which tobacco companies are highly prominent.
Influencing policy-making through trade committees and third parties
In January 2015, the technical barriers to trade (TBT) committee in Kenya held a meeting to discuss the draft regulations. The meeting was attended by two staff members of BAT as well as representatives of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), of which BAT is a member.
At the meeting, KAM gave a presentation offering the exact same arguments that tobacco companies have used in their correspondence opposing the regulations.
The TBT committee has been utilised by the industry as a key outlet for influencing policy. In March 2012, the Ministry of Trade collaborated directly with the tobacco industry to host a workshop for all stakeholders at a resort spa meant to “build the technical competence … on the trade issues of concern”.
Requesting information indirectly through seemingly-independent parties
Also in January 2015, the Ministry of Health received a letter from an individual describing herself only as “a citizen of the Republic of Kenya” requesting all available information and correspondence pertaining to the regulations be handed over. Her contact information was the same as BAT Kenya’s headquarters.
Engaging with policymakers in violation of international treaties
Both BAT and Mastermind Tobacco Kenya have, on multiple occasions, directly engaged parliamentary committees using what have been described by senior civil servants at the Ministry of Health as “manipulative tactics”, declaring their objections to the regulations and requesting meetings in person to discuss alterations.
As a signatory to the FCTC, there is meant to be limited, supervised interaction between industry and government officials.
All the while, back in the UK, BAT is trying to push itself as a sustainable company, but in Kenya the company’s tactics are increasingly being called into question, with many arguing that the tobacco industry should heed international treaties and domestic regulations, the sole purpose of which is to save millions of lives.
In response to this article, a spokesperson for British American Tobacco said politicians and policymakers have the right to hear all sides of debate when formulating new laws:
“As part of this open and transparent engagement with governments, we regularly consult a wide range of representatives in health, trade, revenue, customs, agriculture and other relevant areas. Without industry consultation in the policy-making process, there is no certainty that regulation will take into account the technical and commercial aspects of our business and that of our partners.”
Further research on the tobacco industry can be found on TobaccoTactics.orgGrateful acknowledgement is extended to Consumer Information Network Kenya, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and Corporate Accountability International for their contribution to this article.