Tobacco Industry Interference in Benin
Tobacco Control in Benin
Benin ratified the FCTC in 2005, followed by the adoption of a tobacco control legislation in 2006 and its subsequent promulgation. The provisions in the 2006 law are as follows:
- Ban on the sale of cigarettes in packages of less than 10.
- Ban on advertising on the national TV, radio, magazines and newspapers and internet, including outdoor advertising.
- Ban on advertising on products used mainly by youth and on plastic bags.
- Ban on smoking in health and educational institutions, public places, public transport and offices.
- Designated smoking areas are allowed in hotels and restaurants.
- Ban on free distribution is prohibited among youth and non-smokers.
- Sponsorship is allowed for events targeting adults.
- Display of a text health warning covering 30 – 50 % of the principal surface areas on tobacco packages.
- The level of tar and nicotine should be mentioned on tobacco packages.
- Promotional activities are allowed among adults only.
The present legislation, initiated by the tobacco industry, is weak and not compliant with the FCTC. The Ministry of Health, aware of the loopholes, initiated the process of formulation and adoption of a new legislation. With support from ATCA, a comprehensive new tobacco control bill was drafted and validated on 21 October 2011 during a workshop that brought together all the stakeholders.
Tobacco Industry Interference
The major international tobacco companies are engaged in the importation and sale of tobacco products in Benin.
During the past years, the tobacco industry was engaged in several activities aimed at slowing and weakening the process of adoption of a new tobacco control legislation.
- On several occasions, it made public statements, either directly or through front groups, that the existing legislation is better than the one being developed and called upon authorities to discontinue with the process.
- In its edition of 29 April-5 May 2013, the weekly « le Groupe de Presse, la Gazette du Golf » published an article supporting the idea that the existing legislation is more than adequate to control tobacco use in Benin and, therefore, a new FCTC-compliant one was not justified.
- The industry takes advantage of the low level of media education to introduce advertisement messages in serials, in contravention of Article 13 of the Law No 2006-12 of 7 August 2006.
- There is a proliferation of kiosks, vehicles, umbrellas and other communication gadgets in the colours of cigarette brands in the streets of major cities of Benin.
- In view of projecting the image of a socially responsible industry, it runs a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme, sponsoring the Junior Achievement Francophone Africa initiative (JEAF) for the training of artisans.
- In October 2008, the British American Tobacco (BAT) signed an agreement with the customs department of Benin supposedly to fight illicit tobacco trade on borders when there is ample evidence from around the world of the involvement of the tobacco industry in such activities.
- During the World No Tobacco Day 2014, British American Tobacco (BAT) issued a misleading press release calling upon the World Health Organization (WHO) and Governments to rely on ‘low-harm’ tobacco products like e-cigarettes for tobacco control.
- In September 2014, BAT launched a hostile campaign of misinformation and pressure in ECOWAS and WAEMU countries, including Benin, aimed at dissuading Governments from using tax measures to reduce the demand for tobacco products. The campaign targeted a new directive of the ECOWAS for increased tobacco taxation.
Monitoring the Tobacco Industry in Benin
Tobacco industry monitoring in Benin was carried out by a local NGO known as "Initiative pour l'Education et le Controle du Tabagisme" . The objective of IECT was facilitate the adoption of the FCTC-compliant legislation by monitoring and countering the interference tactics of the tobacco industry.
IECT carried out several activities, including the following:
* A tobacco industry monitoring team (TIM Team) was set up at the initial stage of the project in order to have a dedicated and organized group to follow the activities of the tobacco industry and respond accordingly.
* On 17 and 18 February 2013, with the support of The Union, it organized a sensitization workshop for high level decision- makers on Article 5.3 of the FCTC which allowed participants to understand the strategies of the industry and its manipulative tactics.
* It supported the Ministry of Health in conducting an investigation into the actions of the tobacco industry aimed at preventing the draft tobacco control bill from moving from the Supreme Court to the General Secretariat of the Government.
* Advocacy meetings were held with senior administrators and politicians, including parliamentarians in support of the bill.
* It published several articles on its website and the social media in view of raising public awareness on the issue.
* Press conferences were held to expose the tobacco industry tactics, leading to the publication of several articles.
* A spot on the hazards of tobacco use and the interference of the tobacco industry was broadcast on the occasion of the World Cup in Brazil in order to reach a wider audience.
These initiatives of IECT contributed in mitigating the interference of the tobacco industry and moving the draft tobacco control bill through the following difficult stages:
- adoption by the Council of Ministers and transmission to the Supreme Court;
- acceptance by the Supreme Court;
- transmission to government by the Supreme Court; and
- validation of the amendments of the Supreme Court in a workshop chaired by the Ministry of Health.
IECT also participated in a collective action in the ECOWAS countries to counter the tobacco industry campaign to dissuade governments from increasing tobacco tax in view of reducing consumption. IECT organized a press conference to mobilize the media and the public and sent a letter to government authorities in support of the tobacco tax review.
- A TIM team, a surveillance network of the tobacco industry, including civil society, government and the WHO was set up.
- Increased collaboration between the WHO, Ministry of Health and civil society organization was increased.
- Increased awareness on FCTC Article 5.3. among the focal persons for tobacco control in the different Ministries.
- The draft tobacco control bill has successfully gone through a number of difficult and important stages and is now awaiting adoption.
The Tobacco industry is constantly engaged in undermining the efforts of government and tobacco control advocates in Benin to adopt a comprehensive tobacco control law compliant with the FCTC. Although the new tobacco control bill is yet to be adopted, the process is on-going and the country TIM team is actively engaged in monitoring the activities of the tobacco industry and preventing it from derailing the adoption process.