I watch BBC World every night, courtesy of our satellite disc. The other night I was annoyed by a self-righteous English pratt(1) who was banging on about Malawi and cigarettes. His problem was that in Malawi it is possible to buy cigarettes in single units, and he had scoured all Malawi and found some offending posters where the price of one cigarette was listed. These posters he dragged back to England with him, and presented triumphantly, as evidence of gross misconduct, to the British American Tobacco Company. He styled himself as a sort of guerrilla journalist, hounding down innocent people who had just attended the yearly board meeting and attacking them on their way to their cars. To their credit they all replied politely to his verbal attacks which went something like this: were they aware, and were they not ashamed, that in Africa cigarettes are sold in single units, therefore, (to his mind), aimed at children?
The problem with all this is of course that individual shop owners and anyone else who wants to earn a few pennies do not have to wait for a go-ahead from the British American Tobacco Company before opening a packet of cigarettes and selling them on one by one. In Mali most people buy cigarettes this way, because they are too poor to buy a packet of cigarettes. I have not noticed, at least here in Mali, any great number of children smoking, but can of course not speak for Malawi. Above we have Monsieur Sekou Sarmoye Soukoro, shop keeper of Djenne, with a selection of such offending opened cigarette packets. He confirms my suspicion that it is adults who buy these cigarettes, and two thirds of his cigarette trade is done this way, just as everywhere else in Africa, at least in the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, where Monsieur Soukoro worked earlier.
The programme was unbelievably badly conceived, because the Pratt then interviewed some homeless Malawi children of about twelve, who had also had the idea of buying a packet of cigarettes, opening it and selling the cigarettes on one by one. They were in fact making a living doing just that. Now, this, to my mind, although not an ideal means of making a living, is better than nothing! Then, to further compound the confusion and mixed messages, he interviewed some Malawi tobacco farmers who confirmed that tobacco was their biggest crop and without this cash-crop things would look grim indeed. So it was not clear what the programme was advocating: surely not an immediate cessation of smoking on behalf of everyone? In the long run tobacco crops should of course ideally be replaced with food crops, but in the short term tobacco is providing a living for the poor farmers of Malawi. Meanwhile, surely there are more pressing problems in Malawi, non??
From the BBC Press Office:
New evidence reveals that marketing tactics used by the London-based British American Tobacco Company in Africa clearly breach their own marketing code and are attracting young smokers.
In an investigation carried out for BBC Two's This World, Dragons' Den entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne uncovers clear evidence of breaches of the code in relation to marketing to young people.