The tobacco monopoly in Ethiopia, National Tobacco Enterprise (NTE), is accused of breaching the total ban placed on the advertisement and promotion of tobacco products in the country, The Reporter has learnt.
Organizations that have been advocating for public health, including for effective implementation of the tobacco control legislation, have accused NTE, which is majority-owned by Japan Tobacco Industry (JTI), one of the largest multinational tobacco firms in the world.
The tobacco advocates have accused NTE of involvement in illegal advertising and promotion of tobacco products.
A year ago, the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) of Ethiopia has approved the Food and Medicine Administration Proclamation, which imposes a total ban on direct and indirect advertising and promotion of tobacco products.
“Any person who prepares, publishes, transmits, or in any way participates in illegal or unauthorized advertisement or promotion as defined under this proclamation and other laws issued to implement this proclamation shall be punishable by a simple imprisonment not exceeding three years and with fine not less than Birr fifty thousand,” the proclamation restricted.
Cancer Society of Ethiopia is one of the advocates that appeared bold to accuse the tobacco manufacturers of the violation.
The Society also came up with evidences exhibiting the illegal tobacco advertisement and promotional works now circulating in, mainly the Eastern part of Ethiopia and recently in the Capital, Addis Ababa.
The cancer society based its allegation on sample products such as advertising wall clocks and plastic bags that are now circulating in the market.
Advertising wall clocks displaying NTE’s tobacco brands have been distributed to bars and restaurants found in the Capital, Tizeta Wondwosen, project officer of the Society, told The Reporter.
The plastic bags themed: “Stop Contraband” and the tobacco company’s name (NTE) displayed in the underneath, have been distributed in the Eastern parts of the country and very recently in Addis Ababa, she said.
According to her, the plastic bags advertising the trade name of the tobacco manufacturer has been distributed to some targeted traders that are selling the narcotic green leaf, khat.
Many people, particularly the youth takes this narcotic leaf, along with tobacco products that are addictive and dangerous to the public health particularly exposing smokers to serious lung cancer, Tizeta explained.
Many peoples don’t understand impacts of such tobacco marketing, but the tactics like advertising wall clock is one that is very effective marketing strategy for tobacco producers and suppliers in the world, she said.
“As long as you want to know what the time is, it takes your mind to smoke and repeat it again” Tizeta explained.
The Society also called on the government to start taking punitive measures proscribed on the Food and Medicine Administration Proclamation that imposes total ban on all kinds of direct and indirect advertising and promotion of tobacco products.
Advertising and promotion of tobacco products, whether it is direct or indirect, is not allowed in any place in the country, Ethiopian Food and Drug Administration Authority, which is authorized to execute the tobacco control legislation, told The Reporter.
“We have received information regarding the said illegal tobacco marketing activities, and we are now investigating the matter,” the Authority told The Reporter.
Breaching the tobacco marketing restrictions will result in a criminal liability with penalties of imprisonment as well as financial fines.
The legislation also prohibited any person from producing, publishing and distributing or making accessible any tobacco advertisement and promotional materials, including retail shops.
“Tobacco products in retail shops shall be placed behind or under the counter so that any customer may not directly grasp or see the product,” the article reads.
The prohibitions also incorporated indirect promotion and advertising of tobacco products.
“No person may engage or participate in any tobacco products advertising, promotion, or sponsorship as media or event organizer, celebrity or other participant, as a recipient of any sponsorship contribution, or as an intermediary that facilitates any such contribution shall be prohibited,” the proclamation stipulated.
Yayehyerad Abate, corporate affairs director with NTE, refuted the allegation, saying his company is abiding by the country’s law.
According to him, the plastic bags with “Stop Contraband” message and NTE’s name is not a tobacco promotion. Placing the company’s name is not restricted by the tobacco control legislation or any other law in Ethiopia, he argued.
Company name is not a brand and by no means can it be interpreted as promotion or advertising material for a tobacco product, he said.
The advertising wall clocks, however, was distributed in the market before the enactment of the new law; and NTE, as a law abiding international company, will start collecting these wall clocks, he told The Reporter.
Cancer Society, however, rejected NTE’s claims. The Society also advised NTE to stay away from the fight against tobacco contraband, which according to the Society is the responsibility of the government; otherwise it could be perceived as a marketing tactic.