A novel way to fight tobacco

New Age Online (Nigeria)

Monday, March 1, 2004

Recently six people from the US and Canada flew down to Nigeria and before newsmen, said they were representing a company called Licensed to Kill. Hear them: “We are rich; you are dead. we are licensed to kill. We don’t smoke but we like to kill and we are licensed to kill and we are interested in making profit. We try to make great image by buying big cars, doing promotions. The truth is that we are interested in killing people with the youths as our target group. We use the media to suppress the people, we also lobby and continually kill more people and make more money”.

Do not panic. In truth, the visitors including two women were not here to extend the frontiers of the tobacco industry. They were here to attempt to wipe it out using a new strategy in the fight against tobacco.

According to Gray Watson, Licensed to kill is fictitious and the new method is aimed at attracting attention to the poison called tobacco.

In the developed world, tobacco factories face stringent laws making it uncomfortable for the industry. So they turned their attention towards Africa and the developing world where such laws are more relaxed. Watson and his fellow activists came to Nigeria to join forces with organizations fighting against tobacco and tobacco products.

In Nigeria for instance, tobacco multi-nationals seem to have capitalized on lukewarm laws.

“We realised that many countries such as Nigeria have very little resources to protect the health of the people. We are here to collaborate with groups to help in the campaign against tobacco,” Mr. Watson remarked.

Continuing, he said, many states in the US have developed programmes to check tobacco smoking. It has become a major movement in the US. It will be immoral not to partner with groups outside the US to fight against the global expansion of tobacco. You do not understand what you are farming here in Nigeria. We are here to tell you that.”

According to Akinbode Oluwafemi, a tobacco control advocate, “in one of the villages, they asked for clearance from BAT before they could speak to us. I couldn’t first comprehend what was before me. They have lost their individuality. What is shocking is the way BAT has been twisting the story. We are dealing with rogue corporations.

Sometime in early 2003, BAT Nigeria had embarked upon a massive publicity blitz, tagged “Experience it Big Screen Hollywood Movies”. In the course of this promotion, several Hollywood movies, mainly produced by Warner Bros Inc., were screened on giant sized stands at designated centers in several Nigerian cities.

Unknown to Nigeria and Nigerian authorities, BAT Nigeria did not secure necessary approvals from Warner Bros Inc (USA) before using the movies of that organization to promote cigarettes. This act was not only contrary to good corporate conducts but also bothered on criminality.

Three Nigerian anti-tobacco civil society organizations Journalist Action on Tobacco and Health (JATH), Environmental Right Action and Friends of the Earth (ERA/FOE) and People Against Drug Dependence and Ignorance (PADDI) in collaboration with their international partners blew the lid on this unwholesome practice of BAT Nigeria.

Also speaking was Eze Eluchie, Executive Director, People Against Drug Dependence and Ignorance who said that the National Agency for Food, Drugs and Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has omitted the campaign against tobacco. That NAFDAC is receiving awards from all parts of the world for excellent jobs but failed or disregarded the tobacco anti-campaign efforts.

The delegation visited NGOs, inaugurated a website, met government officials, visited farming communities. “We saw reforestation efforts of tobacco companies, What kind of environment, when people are dying of tobacco, farmers are being paid small wages, they are primitive and do not know what they are doing. Growers do not know about the benefit of the profit of tobacco companies”, said Walling.

“Only 25 per cent Americans smoke. There is no smoking in public places in New York. We hope there will be smoke free Nigeria”, another official said.

According to the delegation, an official of BAT says these farmers belong to them. They were forbidden to talk to us. Officials have informed them in the past not to talk to us. We were shocked, we thought this is a free Nigeria.

The tobacco industry is quick to argue that poor tobacco farmers will be more hit in case of reduction in cigarette consumption. They portray themselves as friends of tobacco farmers concerned with their economic survival.

BAT spin-doctors, in justifying its recent investment in Nigeria have concentrated more on the supposed assistance going to local farmers.

Cigarettes are addictive and are killing millions of people globally, yet certificates are issued to organizations to produce cigarettes.