Tobacco Money Worse Than Blood Diamonds, Groups Warn Fashola

Tobacco Money Worse Than Blood Diamonds, Groups Warn Fashola

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC) have condemned the celebratory reception accorded the Managing Director of British American Tobacco (BAT), Keith Gretton, during a visit to the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola on Monday, September 16, 2013.

In a statement jointly issued in Abuja, the groups said: “this is a major miss-step by Lagos State and we owe it a duty to remind the Governor, seen by many as a role model, that tobacco investment is worse than blood diamonds”.

Media reports indicated that Governor Fashola had, while hosting Gretton in his office at Alausa, hailed BAT for allegedly creating jobs since it began operations in 2003, and added that the Lagos government would continue to maintain a conducive environment for BAT and other businesses to thrive in line with its objectives of “aggressive investment” in infrastructure and security to improve the business environment.

During the meeting, Gretton disclosed that Nigeria was one of BAT’s top 10 markets, adding that the company would continue to perform its corporate responsibilities to Nigerians. He also said BAT supported agriculture and remits about N15 billion in taxes annually to the Federal Government .

But in a statement issued in Lagos, ERA/FoEN and CISLAC said that their findings revealed that the main import of the meeting was to secure Fashola’s endorsement for BAT’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project for the state at a time the state is considering a law to ban smoking in public places.

The groups said: “We have gathered that BAT was making plans to donate Hilux jeeps to the Lagos Security Trust Fund just as some corporations did few a weeks ago.

This is carefully planned so that BAT could interfere in the proposed law to prohibit smoking in public places. This is completely unacceptable. “Tobacco companies have demonstrated beyond reasonable conviction that they are enemies of public health and therefore enemies of the public good.

Their attempt to tap into the profile of Governor Fashola to secure public acceptance is repulsive. “We therefore want plead with Fashola not to taint his political stature with tobacco money. Any porridge from Big Tobacco will run the stomach! A good research by his aides can reveal how political leaders around the world treat funds.” “What we need in Lagos State is a strong legislation to make corporations accountable for all costs associated with production and profits, and in this case, to make the tobacco industry accountable for the deaths, diseases , environmental, social and other costs associated with smoking in the State.

“Not only is this unholy visit very disturbing, it has confirmed what we have always said that the tobacco industry will never subscribe to any form of regulation.

That BAT top echelon is visiting the Lagos State Government at a time the State is contemplating far-reaching laws to regulate the marketing and sale of cigarettes in the state is very revealing to the discerning. “While we believe Lagos, like any other state must attract investments, a company that markets lethal products is definitely not the kind of investment that the people of Lagos or Nigerians need.

The Governor’s pat on the back of a company that has a track record of frustrating regulations is totally unacceptable”.

“Human rights and the business environment are interconnected because people are involved. A decent environment for Lagosians means protection against indignity of all sorts including exposure to dangerous products like cigarettes, direct smoking, second-hand smoking or third degree smoking”. “We want to remind the governor that the choice of Lagos by BAT is informed by the company’s belief that the huge number of youths in Lagos is a big market that must be targeted as replacement smokers for a dying generation of smokers”. “Rather than open its doors to BAT at this point, we feel the Lagos state government should take a cue from the Federal Capital Territory and other states that have gone as far as declaring smoke-free public places, ban on public smoking and other regulatory steps against tobacco manufacturing firms”.

“The governor rightly posited that many of the diseases today are caused by the lifestyle choices that people make. We submit that BAT and other tobacco companies through their misinformation, glamorization of cigarettes and deceitful marketing strategies hide vital information on the deadly nature of their products to users to get them hooked on cigarettes. “This suspicious visit to the Lagos State Governor is a continuation of BAT’s strategy of ingratiating with government officials to seem socially responsible while garnering good press.

“Our demands are unequivocal: The Lagos State government should immediately revoke permits for the company’s four million pounds headquarters which it claims to be a demonstration of its commitment to Nigeria, and put in place far-reaching tobacco control laws. Anything short of this is a license to the tobacco company to continue the killing of our people”.

Signed: Auwal Rafsanjani
CISLAC Akinbode OluwafemiERA/FoEN