Anti-tobacco lobbyists fear dealings between British America Tobacco (BAT) and government will slow down the process of designing an efficient tobacco control law.
Anti Tobacco Network (ATN) has condemned partnerships between BAT and key stakeholders in the wake of bribery revelations in African states with the intention of opposing the passage of anti-tobacco legislature. The revelations were made this week through a BBC investigation.
Initially the bill was scheduled to be presented before Parliament during the ongoing November sitting, however it appears it will only be discussed next year.
ATN said “dirty dealings” of the tobacco conglomerate in countries like Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda aimed at sabotaging tobacco control laws should be seen as red flags for Botswana.
Dr Bontle Mbongwe, who heads the anti-tobacco group noted that, “this is particularly important for Botswana as the country is in the process of developing a strong Framework Convention on Tobacco Control compliant legislation and BAT is very active in creating alliances with the retailers, private sector, the youth and key government ministries.”
“Never before has BAT been so active in Botswana. BAT is frequenting the different ministers and parliamentarians lobbying for inclusion in consultations on the upcoming law so that they can water it down to meet their trade interests against public health protection,” said Mbongwe.
Moreover, she slammed BAT’s initiative aimed at preventing youth smoking as deceptive. The “Youth Smoking Prevention Campaign” was undertaken in partnership with Business Botswana and the anti-tobacco activist says this was just for the company to “advance its interests ignorantly.”
She did not spare the Botswana Police Service (BPS) for publicly partnering with BAT twice now.
“We know they donated a vehicle to the BPS in 2012/2013 claiming to assist the Botswana police service to curb crime, against the ideals of article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which prohibit partnership with the tobacco industry as it constitutes conflict of interest,” she added.
BAT recently partnered again with the police to investigate illicit tobacco products, “claiming that Botswana loses billions on illicit trade.” “It does not make sense for a regulatory body to partner with a tobacco company to police tobacco products. Certainly this is a trick for BAT to penetrate a regulatory body to advance its business interests using a government body.”
Mbongwe rhetorically asked: if BAT can bribe government officials in sister African countries what can possibly stop them from bribing government officials in Botswana given that we are in the process of developing a strong legislation?
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), a global leader against tobacco use released a statement on Tuesday saying BAT has completely disregarded “the laws of the countries in which it operates.”
CTFK president, Matthew Myer, called on the government of the United Kingdom to immediately open an investigation to determine if BAT should be prosecuted under the Bribery Act, the US Department of Justice to open an investigation under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and each African government involved to open a criminal investigation under its laws.
“The BBC investigation – which is based on documents, email records, voice recordings, and other evidence compiled by a former BAT employee, provides more than enough evidence to prompt government prosecutors in the UK, the US and the African countries featured in the report to initiate civil and criminal investigations into BAT’s practices,” said Myer.
He added that the BBC report also reminded governments that they must be ever vigilant against the tobacco industry’s efforts to defeat life-saving measures to reduce tobacco use.
“Rather than giving in to the industry, governments must implement proven measures that protect the health of their citizens from the dangers of tobacco, as called for by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an international treaty that has been ratified by 179 nations,” he stressed.
On Monday a whistleblower at BAT described how the corporation funded illegal corporate espionage, and the exposé revealed how BAT contractors bribed politicians and policymakers in countries like Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda.