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Big Tobacco takes a tumble in Senegal

Is Big Tobacco losing its grip?

Tela Chhe

Health campaigners in Senegal are celebrating the passage of tough new anti-smoking legislation.

The law makes Senegal the sixth African nation to ban smoking in almost all public places, and also includes a total ban on advertising along with the introduction of graphic health warnings on 70 per cent of cigarette packets.

Philip Morris – which makes brands Marlboro and L&M and has a factory in Senegal – admits to having lobbied ‘transparently and pro-actively’ to alter the legislation.

‘What happened here is an example of long-term resistance to tobacco industry interference,’ explains Tih Ntiabang, Africa Co-ordinator of the civil-society Framework Convention Alliance.

As regulations tighten in the West, companies are aggressively targeting African markets where laws around advertising are more lax.

According to Ntiabang, pressure from Big Tobacco is ‘one of the main obstacles for any law in Africa’, while a growing global trend of pursuing litigation when lobbying fails could pose further problems.

Philip Morris is suing Australia and Uruguay through bilateral trade treaties for progressive tobacco control, while in South Africa, British American Tobacco has attempted to challenge advertising bans as an infringement of constitutional guarantees on ‘freedom of expression’.

For Senegal, the next big step will be to increase the price of its cigarettes – at 80 US cents a pack, currently among the cheapest in the world – but here it could potentially run into legal problems too. As a member of UEMOA – the body governing francophone West Africa’s single currency zone – it is prevented from increasing taxes on cigarettes. To raise prices it must either choose to follow the more permissive regulations of economic grouping ECOWAS or push for regional reform.

With big potential impacts across the region, do not be surprised if Big Tobacco has its lawyers at the ready.