International Marketing Standards

Tobacco giant ‘breaks youth code’

Campaigners say young people are attracted to single cigarettes. A British tobacco giant is breaking its own marketing code covering the sale of cigarettes to young people in Africa.

An investigation for the BBC has found evidence in Nigeria, Malawi and Mauritius of rules being broken. In particular, BBC Two’s This World found single cigarettes – which campaigners say are attractive to young people – were being promoted and sold.

The company involved, British American Tobacco (BAT), says it does not encourage the sale of single “sticks”. During the investigation carried out for BBC Two’s This World programme, British businessman Duncan Bannatyne also discovers tactics used by BAT which circumvent bans on advertising and raise the profile of cigarettes in countries where doctors are warning of a potential epidemic of smoking-related diseases.

In Malawi, the programme found evidence of the London-based tobacco firm providing sponsorship for a music event, which was held at a venue that had no formal age checks on the door. This breaks BAT’s own marketing code. Chris Proctor, head of science and Regulation at BAT, told the programme that: “If that was the case, that is disappointing, it’s certainly not what we would wish to happen.” Celebrities had also appeared at the music event wearing Embassy and Pall Mall branded goods.

WHO predicts smoking-related deaths in Africa will double within 20 years. Campaigners say that such events – which often feature competitions offering lavish prizes – are succeeding in making cigarettes attractive in a country where less than 10% of the population smoke and where smoking is still considered taboo. BAT’s marketing code acknowledges that single cigarettes are particularly attractive to young people, who may not be able to afford a whole packet of cigarettes. The company claims it does not promote the sale of single sticks on this basis. Yet in Mauritius, Mr Bannatyne discovers special pots which BAT has distributed to shops to make it easier for them to sell single cigarettes.

In Malawi and Nigeria, he discovers posters that BAT has produced depicting single cigarettes and showing the price of a single cigarette. BAT’s Mr Proctor said existing posters advertising single sticks would not be used after June 2008. And he said that the pots to promote single sticks should have been withdrawn.

The programme features children as young as 11 who are buying the single cigarettes and are already developing a nicotine habit. Dr Sunil Gunness, a cardiac surgeon in Mauritius, reports a huge rise in smoking-related diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that the number of smoking-related deaths in Africa is 100,000 a year, but that that figure is set to double in the next 20 years. The programme shows clear evidence of BAT flouting existing bans on advertising.

In Mauritius, where cigarette advertising is banned, BAT has painted shops the same colour as Matinee, one of their leading brands. One shopkeeper told the programme that BAT painted it for him to advertise its cigarettes three years ago. That is six years after the ban on advertising was introduced in 1999.

Mr Proctor conceded that the shops should not have been painted by BAT. “There were a series of shops that had been painted a yellow, the same colour as one of our brands there,” he said. “We had a look at it recently. It wasn’t against the law but it didn’t look right, so we have been back in there and we’ve been making sure those are repainted.” Mr Proctor said the company would be looking at the issues raised by the programme. Duncan Bannatyne described BAT as “the unacceptable face of British Business”.

BAT’s International Marketing Standards

Wherever they do business around the world, our companies’ marketing is governed by our International Marketing Standards.

Our Standards are globally consistent and embody in detail our commitment to marketing appropriately and only to adult tobacco consumers. They aim to ‘raise the bar’ by establishing a benchmark for the industry worldwide. At end 2008 over 40 per cent of our global volume was being sold in countries where our Standards are generally stricter than local law.

The Standards cover all tobacco product marketing and messaging for consumers across print, billboards, electronic media, promotional events and sponsorship. Examples, in brief outline, of how they address tobacco product brand communications include:

  • Not to be aimed at, or particularly appeal to youth;
  • Not to feature a celebrity nor link tobacco with sporting, professional, social or sexual success;
  • Not to appear in printed publications unless at least 75 per cent of readers are verified as adults;
  • To carry a health warning as well as the health warnings on product packs;
  • No giant billboard advertising and no billboards at all within 100 metres of a school;
  • No web, television, cinema or radio advertising unless the audience can be restricted to verified adults;
  • No direct or indirect product placement;
  • No event sponsorship unless the participants and audience are adults;
  • No direct consumer contact unless with verified adult consumers;
  • No unsolicited free samples.