Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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BAT’s ‘kiddie’ cigarette packs endanger African children: A call to action

As Ethiopian advocates for public health, we are deeply alarmed by British American Tobacco’s (BAT) recent push to manufacture and export 10-stick cigarette packs through its Pakistan Tobacco Company (PTC), specifically targeting African markets such as Sudan. This move undermines global efforts to protect children and vulnerable populations from the devastating effects of tobacco addiction.

Global tobacco control laws are designed to safeguard public health, particularly the health of children. Many countries, including Ethiopia, have implemented regulations that prohibit the sale of cigarette packs smaller than 20 sticks. This is because smaller packs make cigarettes more accessible and affordable, especially to children. Reducing the availability of these “kiddie” packs is a crucial measure in decreasing cigarette consumption and preventing the onset of tobacco addiction, disease, and premature death.

However, BAT’s efforts to amend Pakistan’s Tobacco Advertising, Promotion, and Sponsorship (TAPS) regulations to produce 10-stick packs intended for export to Sudan is a direct threat to these protective measures. BAT claims that these smaller packs will not be sold in Pakistan but only in Sudan. This stance is not only hypocritical but also reeks of corporate racism, as it prioritizes the health of children in one region over another.

At a time when Sudan and other African countries are in dire need of essential resources such as food, medicine, and healthcare, the introduction of smaller, more affordable cigarette packs will only exacerbate the public health crisis. It will raise the risk of tobacco addiction among African children and young people. It is unconscionable that BAT would exploit vulnerable populations in Africa to expand its market and profits.

Moreover, Sudan is currently grappling with significant security challenges, which further complicate the situation. BAT and other tobacco companies are likely to exploit not only Sudan’s regulatory framework but also the current instability to push their harmful products onto the market. In such a vulnerable state, the Sudanese population is at even greater risk of falling prey to these aggressive marketing tactics.

The tobacco industry’s actions are a stark reminder of the double standards it employs. While claiming to adhere to strict regulations in developed countries, it seeks to exploit legal loopholes and weaker regulatory environments in developing nations. This behavior is a clear example of corporate racism, putting the lives of African children at risk for the sake of profit.

In Pakistan, the situation is equally concerning. Despite opposition from key governmental bodies, BAT has leveraged its influence to push for legislative changes that would allow the production of these dangerous 10-stick packs. This move has been met with strong local resistance from Pakistani-based tobacco control organizations.

For Ethiopia, the threat extends beyond the borders of Sudan. Ethiopia is already struggling with significant illicit tobacco products smuggled through its Somali border. The introduction of smaller packs could exacerbate this issue, making it easier for these products to penetrate the Ethiopian market through illicit channels. The tobacco industry is also waging another war along Ethiopia’s second-longest border, further complicating efforts to control the spread of harmful tobacco products.

The problem of illicit tobacco trade in Ethiopia is dire, with significant implications for public health and the economy. According to recent data, illicit tobacco products account for a substantial portion of the market, undermining legal tobacco control efforts. In 2018, an independent study identified significant figures of illicit tobacco trade. This illicit trade not only increases tobacco consumption but also deprives the government of valuable tax revenue and complicates enforcement efforts.

As public health advocates, we stand in solidarity with our Pakistani colleagues in urging the government to resist these pressures and maintain the integrity of their tobacco control laws. Allowing the production of 10-stick packs under the guise of export not only endangers public health for Africans but also sets a dangerous precedent that could undermine tobacco control efforts globally.

We urgently call on governments and civil society organizations across Africa and beyond to join us in condemning BAT’s actions. If a product is deemed too dangerous for one country’s children, it is too dangerous for children anywhere. We must protect our future generations from the scourge of tobacco addiction and hold corporations accountable for their exploitative practices.

Let us join forces in our effort to save the lives of our children from the entirely preventable tobacco epidemic and contribute to transforming our great continent of Africa into a better place to live and work.

Mathiows Wondu – YeEthiopia Cancer Society (MWECS) is a non-governmental, non-profit organization established by the first General Assembly meeting of the founding members of the Society in April 20o4.

Contributed by Mathiows Wondu – YeEthiopia Cancer Society (MWECS)

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