A BBC TV programme on 1 July 2008, called ‘Bannatyne takes on big tobacco’, painted a very negative picture of our business in three countries in Africa, including alleging that we target children to sell cigarettes and break our own strict International Marketing Standards.
Viewers who trust the BBC to be fair, impartial and balanced should know that this was not a BBC news documentary, governed by BBC rules obliging news reporters to be fair, impartial and balanced. By the producers’ own admission, it was “a personal view”, putting across very strong opinions, subjective views and judgements made by one individual, a TV personality called Duncan Bannatyne, who has a campaigning anti-tobacco stance.
We don’t want children to smoke. That’s why our policy everywhere in the world is only to market to adults who have decided to be tobacco consumers and not to direct any of our marketing to minors. Our marketing is not aimed at ‘selling smoking’ – it’s all about brand preference amongst adults who have chosen to be tobacco consumers.
We gave a very long interview answering a lot of questions accurately and openly, but almost all of it was cut. Here are a few things you might have heard if this had been a news programme that had to operate to the BBC’s rules on impartiality.
Single cigarette sales in some African countries
- We never supply shops with single cigarettes, anywhere. We only sell retailers packs marked with health warnings. But in some countries, retailers break up packs to sell ‘single sticks’, usually to people on lower incomes who don’t smoke very much and only want to buy one or two cigarettes.
- In these countries ‘single stick’ sales are legal, although we don’t like this practice and try to discourage it. But we can’t change consumers’ preferences or stop retailers from doing it overnight. Refusing to supply retailers who split up packs would simply open up a gap for other suppliers, who are likely to be less concerned than we are about how cigarettes are sold in the market.
- In some countries, we provide ‘recommended price’ notices for single sticks in shops. This is to prevent adult consumers from being ‘ripped off’ by retailers who break up packs and sell at a very high mark-up. It is not to advertise brands but to discourage unfair mark-ups.
Sales to children
- Whether cigarettes are sold in packs or singly, we do not want retailers to sell any cigarettes to children.
- Our companies have lobbied governments for minimum age laws in countries where there are none. We try to educate retailers about the law and that they should never sell to children.
- But some retailers do sell to children. We agree this is very wrong and we want to see better enforcement of laws against under age sales and penalties for retailers who break the law.
Pots holding single sticks in Mauritius
- Our local company used to supply pots for retailers to hold ‘single sticks’. In 2006, it stopped this, but some retailers still use old ones.
- Our business is working to ‘sweep’ the market to remove these from retailers. Although the programme made much of the pots as if they were commonplace, our business in Mauritius tells us it is making good progress in getting them out of shops.
Painted shops in Mauritius
- Before 2006, as part of relationship building with a small number of retailers, our company in Mauritius arranged for 70 shops to be painted yellow, the colour associated with the Matinee brand. Painting the shops was not against the law.
- However, this is not done now and before the TV programme was made, our local company was already paying for all 70 shops to be repainted in neutral colours and they have all now been done.
- The programme filmed some shops that had not yet been repainted and ignored our explanation.
Pall Mall event in Malawi
- The programme alleged - apparently on the word of one un-named person - that there were no age checks at the door of a music gathering for some of our adult consumers.
- Our subsidiary in Malawi vetted attendees in advance through forms that consumers had filled in stating their age; ages were verified by a driver’s licence, passport or affidavit from a relative. There was age-verification on the door and the Malawi Police attended to help our staff ensure that the event was strictly for adults over 18.
- The programme showed Pall Mall branded items such as t-shirts and caps for attendees, which by the way all carried health warnings. But it did not report that this is already something our companies no longer do. Under our revised International Marketing Standards, which apply to all our companies from 30 June 2008, our companies no longer produce items like clothing with cigarette branding.
- The programme touched on some allegations being made by plaintiffs in a legal action in Nigeria.
- It would not be appropriate to comment on any pending legal cases or discuss matters that might be evidence in court, except to say that our business in Nigeria will be vigorously defending the claims, which we believe are flawed and lack merit.
- But we can say that children are not and will never be any part of our target consumer universe.
We are open minded to fair, accurate and factually-based criticisms and want to hear about any alleged breaches of our International Marketing Standards so that we can take appropriate action. However, we do not believe this programme showed any clear evidence of our Marketing Standards being breached or of any laws being broken by our companies.
Like Duncan Bannatyne, we really do not want children to smoke, but sadly, we don’t think this programme ever really got to grips with effective ways to prevent this from happening.
Nigerian press article
The following is an article written by journalist Umar A. Muhammad for the THISDAY newspaper, with a local view on some of the issues raised in the programme:
Thisday newspaper article (312 kb)