The world marks World No Tobacco Day on May 31st every year, to raise awareness of the negative health, social, economic, and environmental impacts of tobacco production and use. This year’s theme, “Tobacco: Threat to Our Environment“, aims to highlight the environmental impact of the entire tobacco cycle, from cultivation, production, and distribution to the toxic waste it generates.

A WHO report highlights that the industry’s carbon footprint from production, processing, and transporting tobacco is equivalent to one-fifth of the CO2 produced by the commercial airline industry each year, further contributing to global warming.

Tobacco use still poses significant health, economic and social burdens worldwide. In fact, some countries – mostly in Africa – are experiencing increases in smoking prevalence. The latest Tobacco Atlas shows that, globally, 1.13 billion people were current smokers in 2019. And 8.67 million deaths were attributable to tobacco smoking, writes Sam FilbyResearch Officer at the University of Cape Town for (31/5)

Smoking in Africa

According to WHO – despite 24 African countries instituting bans on smoking in public places, and 35 banning tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship – estimates are that one in every 10 African adolescents uses tobacco. The emergence of new products, such as electronic nicotine and tobacco products, is also proving attractive to youths – compounding the concerns.  ( 31/5) 

The latest edition of the Tobacco Atlas, the seventh, published on May 18th, says that the lower tobacco-related burden in Africa reflects its historically lower smoking prevalence. However, with an increase in affordability of tobacco products and the tobacco industry’s aggressive marketing in Africa, smoking prevalence has already started to rise or is likely to substantially increase in the future. With its rapidly growing populations and rising life expectancy, an increase in the number of smokers combined with more years lived with tobacco-related diseases is likely to make Africa suffer the most from future smoking-related death and disease. (Tobacco Atlas 7th edition 18/5) 

Tobacco industry monitors, Tobacco Tactics, based at the University of Bath, report that smoking prevalence in the AFRO region remains the lowest among all WHO regions (an average prevalence rate of 18.5% in 2020) and this rate is narrowing towards 11.2% in 2025. 

The Tobacco Atlas has documented a significant increase in smoking prevalence in some African countries over the last few years, notably Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Niger and Mauritania.

1950s anti-smoking advert: Wikimedia Commons

Adult daily smoking – African countries with double digit prevalence:

Congo, Republic of10%
Sierra Leone12%
South Africa17%

(Source: WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic 2021)

Tobacco Production in Africa

From 2012 to 2018, the area under tobacco cultivation decreased globally by 15.66%, whilst on the African continent it increased by 3.40%. East Africa alone accounts for 90.43% of tobacco leaf production in Africa.  The member states of the WHO African Region account for 18.2% of the global area under tobacco cultivation and 11.4% of tobacco leaf growing in the world. The five top tobacco growing countries are Zimbabwe (25.9% of total output), Zambia (16.4%), Tanzania(14.4%), Malawi (13.3%) and Mozambique (12.9%). Other countries have small tobacco growing areas, usually for local consumption.

In the AFRO region, the main production hubs are located in Algeria, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. In 2018, South Africa was the leading cigarette producer in the AFRO region.

Major tobacco manufacturers include British American Tobacco (BAT), Imperial Brands, Philip Morris International (PMI), and Japan Tobacco International (JTI). For years, BAT has had the largest market share in two-thirds of countries across Africa, and a virtual monopoly in a number of these, including 51.7% in Uganda,78.8% in Kenya,71.4% in South Africa and 79% in Nigeria.

As of the fourth quarter 2021, BAT had production facilities in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe, while PMI had such facilities in Algeria, Senegal and South Africa. JTI was present in Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.

Field of Tobacco: Wikimedia Commons

Industry Interference in Africa

In Africa, the tobacco industry has a history of using several tactics to interfere in tobacco control and to delay legislation, according to Tobacco Tactics. Major interference tactics include amongst others, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, lobbying, litigation, the use of third parties, alleged bribery and espionage, and using arguments on illicit trade as well as unnecessary interactions with governments.

Extensive research published in 2021 by the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, a partner in STOP, in conjunction with BBC’s PanoramaThe Bureau of Investigative Journalism as well as the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project uncovered multiple instances of British American Tobacco seeking to frustrate tobacco control measures and undermine competitors in Africa. For more details visit The BAT Files on TobaccoTactics.

Examples of tobacco industry interference include British American Tobacco (BAT) sending a letter to the Minister of Trade in Uganda in 2020,  to share inputs on the draft tobacco control regulations received from the said Minister’s office. However, this document was the official custody of the Ministry or Health, meaning that an informant at the Ministry of Trade had provided the document to BAT.

In 2017, in Ethiopia, during the privatisation process of National Tobacco Enterprise (NTE), an agreement was undertaken between Japan Tobacco International (JTI), the majority shareholder of the NTE and the Government, which allowed JTI to comment before any tobacco-related law was processed. Due to this, the tobacco industry has been able to exert pressure on public health laws.

Evidence also suggests that the tobacco industry has interfered with policy development in Nigeria: prior to the approval of the National Tobacco Control Regulation 2019, the industry submitted memoranda, made submissions and sent a delegation to the public hearing at the National Assembly. 

Tobacco Tactics adds that the tobacco industry also has a history of employing legal challenges to intimidate African governments and tobacco control stakeholders in order to either stall the adoption or implementation of a tobacco control policy, or to weaken it. In Kenya and Uganda, for example, British American Tobacco (BAT) has used litigation to attempt to block government attempts to adopt regulations that limit the harm caused by smoking. BAT and other multinational tobacco companies have also sent threatening letters to governments in Namibia, Togo, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso accusing them of breaching their own laws and international trade agreements and warning of damage to the economy.  (Source: 1/2) 

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