Tobacco Industry Interference in Gabon
Tobacco Control in Gabon
Gabon ratified the FCTC on 20 February 2009, six years after the signing of the treaty in August 2003. The delay in the ratification of the FCTC was due to strong interference of the tobacco industry. In August 2013, a new legislation, in line with the FCTC, was adopted by both houses of Parliament (National Assembly and Senate). Prior to this date, the only existing legal instrument in Gabon was an Order dated 29 September 1998 which mandated the display of a text health warning and the nicotine and tar content on cigarette packs.
Tobacco Industry Interference
The Government of Gabon was the main shareholder in the tobacco company known as SOCIGA until the ratification of the FCTC in February 2009. After ratification, the Gabonese government reduced its shares in SOCIGA to 10% while 87.8% is now owned by Imperial Tobacco and 2% by the Gabonese private sector. According to the management of SOCIGA, the company has a turnover of over 11 billion CFA francs and provides 80 direct jobs. Gabon, with its political stability, is a hub for the tobacco industry. Having a small population, the tobacco products manufactured in Gabon allow the tobacco industry to supply the sub-regional market, especially that of the CEMAC zone. Gabon, however, does not grow tobacco. BAT and Phillip Morris International import and market tobacco products in Gabon.
Several cases of interference of the tobacco industry in the tobacco control policy formulation and implementation process have been noted in Gabon.
- Prior to the adoption of the law, the tobacco industry attempted to introduce its own version of the tobacco control bill, parallel to the FCTC-compliant one prepared by the government in consultation with civil society. This attempt was made through a Senator known for his proximity to the tobacco industry.
- The industry used front groups to support its positions, one of the prominent ones being ‘Malachie’, a civil society organization engaged in malaria control and funded by the industry.
- It exerted pressure at the highest level of government, including the Prime Minister, and lobbied with newly appointed Ministers to be considered as a stakeholder in the tobacco control legislative process.
- There was also recurring pressure on other members of the government, for example, the Minister of Justice, the Minister in charge of relations with the Parliament, the Minister of Health as well as on high-ranking and influential officials such as the General Director of Health and the Tobacco Control Focal Point, in view of influencing the drafting of the new legislation and delaying the process.
After the adoption and promulgation of the tobacco control law, the interference of the tobacco industry continues unabated, attempting this time to influence and delay its implementation.
Monitoring the Tobacco Industry in Gabon
Tobacco industry monitoring (TIM) in Gabon was undertaken by “Mouvement Populaire pour la Santé (MPS)”, the country partner of ATCA. The objective of the TIM Team was to prevent the tobacco industry from interfering in the process of adoption of the tobacco control legislation and its implementing decree. The following activities were carried out by the TIM team:
- It conducted an intensive advocacy campaign towards parliamentarians and the Presidents of both Houses of Parliament (National Assembly and Senate), allowing them to appreciate the importance of a comprehensive FCTC-compliant law and the justification in rejecting the parallel bill proposed by the tobacco industry.
* A letter was sent to the Prime Minister to explain the strategy of the tobacco industry and requesting appropriate actions for the adoption of the bill.
* Advocacy meetings were also held with government officials on Article 5.3 of the FCTC and in favour of the bill.
* Press conferences were held to denounce the attempts of the tobacco industry to introduce the parallel draft bill.
As a result of the interventions of the TIM Team, the draft bill initiated by the government was retained for adoption and the parallel one introduced by a Senator on behalf of the tobacco industry was considered inappropriate and removed.
Faced with the mounting pressure from tobacco control advocates, the front group ‘Malachie’ ultimately gave up its support to the tobacco industry which accelerated the adoption of the national tobacco control bill.
Once the law (No. 006/2013) was passed, the TIM collaborated with the government for the promulgation of the implementation decree. Meetings were held with the Deputy General Director of Health, other experts from the same ministry and the representative of the WHO. The decree, No. 0805/PR , was promulgated on 21 August 2013.
a- A TIM Team has been set up in Gabon to monitor, counter and denounce the tobacco industry.
b- A FCTC-compliant law has been adopted.
c- A decree for the implementation of the law has been promulgated.
d- Different sectors of the government and the political class are more informed of the strategies used by the tobacco industry to interfere in tobacco control policies.
The success in Gabon would not have been possible without the support and coordinated approach of some key stakeholders such as the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister's office, the WHO, the tobacco control focal point and civil society. The tobacco industry in Gabon is constantly working to weaken tobacco control and slow its implementation. Working in the shadows, it attempts to corrupt politicians and high level officials to undermine policies. In a joint etter dated 30 December 2013, the three multinational tobacco companies operating in Gabon, namely, BAT, Phillip Morris and Imperial Tobacco, jointly wrote to the Prime Minister about “excessive measures” that could be taken as a result of the promulgation of the decree and infringe on the rights of consumers, the freedom to conduct business and proprietary rights. Civil society requires resources to continue monitoring the industry and collaboration among all sectors should continue for the effective implementation of the law.