BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's James Westhead
"The slick operation is run from London"
 real 56k

BAT Africa Manager, Bob Fletcher
"We need to investigate"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 20 September, 2000, 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK
UK tobacco firm targets African youth

Company representatives were giving free cigarettes
Exclusive by the BBC's health correspondent, James Westhead

A BBC investigation has found that a British tobacco company is actively targeting young people and teenagers in Africa.

Cigarettes are being handed out free at youth events specially organised by tobacco firms during school holidays.

The companies insist they only give the samples to adult smokers, but there's evidence their own rules are not being followed.

The investigation is a further blow to an industry already dogged by accusations of dirty tricks and dubious marketing techniques, particularly in developing countries.

The company involved, British American Tobacco (BAT), has pledged to re-train its staff to stop the practice.

Cigarette logo
BAT makes the Gambia's best-selling brands
The World Health Organisation is backing a radical international tobacco control treaty, which would include a global advertising ban.

At a beach volleyball tournament in the Gambia, the organisers told the BBC it was laid on for young people during the school holidays.

Here in one of Africa's poorest countries though there was another more sinister purpose; promoting cigarettes.

Yellow Benson and Hedges banners were everywhere and so were young women in B&H t-shirts handing out free cigarettes in the crowd.

Tobacco companies say they don't give samples to under-eighteens. But as the women helped youngsters light up many appeared under-age and no-one checked their age.

One of the cigarette reps said the age limit was only fifteen before quickly correcting herself.

She said: "We only give free cigarettes to big boys."

'Encouraging people'

One eighteen year old told us, "Coming to the beach and handing out free cigarettes - that is encouraging people to smoke."

The operation is run from London by BAT, who produce the main cigarette brands in the Gambia, Piccadilly and Benson and Hedges.

The Gambia, a muslim country, used to be one of the few places where cigarette advertising was banned.

After a military coup the ban was lifted three years ago and now tobacco sponsorship is everywhere.

The result has been a doubling of cigarette sales almost overnight. The World Health Organisation believes it has also led to an increase in smoking among children.

A recent survey it conducted across Africa found one in five under fifteen year olds now smoke.

The WHO representative in the Gambia, Dr James Mwanzia, said:"It is the height of hypocrisy because, how do you sponsor a health event like a volley ball match and then give out cigarettes?"

Football tournaments, music concerts, even parties are also sponsored by cigarette companies as a way of gathering young people together.

Youth football teams in the Gambia can't even afford footballs, so tobacco companies hand out free cigarettes at soccer games.

Following our investigation BAT say they would re-brief their teams in the Gambia as a precautionary measure to ensure their staff do not hand out free cigarettes to children under eighteeen.

Head of Marketing Bob Fletcher told the BBC that if staff had been found to be breaching BAT's global guidelines, action would be taken against them.

Clive Bates, director of Action on Smoking and Health, told BBC News Online: "As soon as they think no-one is looking, they are going after the teenage market."

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

02 Aug 00 | Health
A global smoking battle
03 Aug 00 | Health
Tobacco giants deny smear tactics
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories