Cheap cigarettes suit international tobacco multinationals. As profits are choked off in the west, big tobacco has homed in on African communities, and especially their young people
As outlined in research from the University of Bath, a partner in the tobacco industry watchdog, Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products (Stop):
“To protect their profits, transnational tobacco companies (TTCs) began shifting their business to relatively untapped markets in parts of the world where the opportunity for growth is largely unrestricted … Nowhere is this underexploited prospect as ripe for the picking as Africa. TTCs are expanding into African countries, where, excluding South Africa, the tobacco market grew by almost 70% through the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century.”
Global progress against the “tobacco epidemic” is driven by large declines mostly in nations that have raised taxes on tobacco, limited marketing, mounted hard-hitting public information campaigns, and banned smoking in many public places. Research shows that the decline in smoking in Africa has been small, and adult prevalence increased in 10 of the continent’s countries between 1990 and 2019.
Taxation is the most effective way to control tobacco use but Africa has a poor record in this area. Tobacconomics’ cigarette tax scorecard rates nations on a scale of 0 to 5, with 5 indicating the best performance. Compared with leaders such as New Zealand or Ecuador (4.63), which are making rapid progress, countries such as Kenya (0.88), Zimbabwe (1.38), Chad and Central African Republic (both at 0.75) show that tobacco is lightly taxed across most of the continent.
Another industry argument is that tobacco cultivation in many east and southern African countries is an important part of the economy. The tobacco industry lobbies governments to stall action for fear of hurting farmers, but the Tobacco Atlas identifies recent research that demonstrates that most tobacco growers are impoverished and governments would serve them better by helping them transition to more profitable crops.