MBA Case Study “Loosies”! Has Africa lost the war on “Big Tobacco”?
Well not quite MBA but MPA (i.e., Master of Public Administration) students on a module “Public Policy & Management,” at the University of Kigali, were put to the test today to express their views on the regulatory challenges and public policy implications of the continued breaches by “Big Tobacco” in Africa — from “loosies” (single sticks), to ban of smoking in public places, advertising and plain packaging.
In my 2016 article, “Consumer Protection in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Exploration of “Big Tobacco” Marketing Practices,” I sought to “provide some insight into how tobacco marketers have subjected SSA to a launchpad for ‘guerrilla marketing’ campaigns especially in the absence of clearly defined consumer protection legislation in these countries — unlike what obtains in other parts of the world.”
From the review of the regulatory environment in the three countries investigated in the chapter — i.e., Malawi, Mauritius and Nigeria, it was evident that some regulation, while in place to protect vulnerable groups from the consumption of harmful products, are rarely enforced.
Indeed, “the prevalent sale of cigarettes ‘singly’ [or loosie— with hindsight] in most parts of the world [is largely illegal], but this [practice] is very common in African countries — especially in places such as Malawi, Mauritius and Nigeria…” Looking back at the article, one paragraph reads:
“…Tobacco companies tend to get readily involved and with the support of African governments in publicity stunts including PR (public relations) and sponsorship manoeuvres such as the John Players Gold Leaf music festival — which projects smoking as the new ‘cool’...”
As one documentary British American Tobacco targeting African Children with cigarettes — YouTube undertaken by a rich British Entrepreneur (the key figure in the popular Dragon’s Den) showed.
In the video, Duncan Bannatyne takes on the company behind Embassy, Pall Mall and Benson & Hedges, and asks them why they’re targeting African children, in the face of falling smoker numbers in the west.
In a country like Malawi where “Tobacco accounts for about 50% of Malawi’s total foreign currency earnings and roughly 15% of GDP,” is difficult to see how “Big Tobacco” could be punished or penalised for regulatory breaches.
Need I add that a few studies have since come to light such as the 2014 article “Out of View but in Plain Sight: The Illegal Sale of Single Cigarettes” by Frances Stillman, Lee Bone, Adam Milam, Jiemin Ma, and Kathleen Hoke, in the Journal of Urban Health.
Here’s the MPA Exam Question Scenario:
In a 2019 study “Regulatory Challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa and Marketing Malpractices of “Big” Tobacco,” the implications of the marketing activities undertaken by tobacco companies in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and especially as it pertains to vulnerable groups such as children was highlighted. Using illustrative cases of two SSA countries — notably Malawi and Nigeria — with disparate economic sizes were interrogated. The authors posited that the marketing practices of tobacco giants (i.e., Big Tobacco), exploiting the weak regulatory environment in SSA, is worthy of scholarly and policy attention. The chapter focuses primarily on the promotion element of the traditional marketing-mix (which also includes the production and its packaging and branding attributes, pricing strategies, and distribution/place elements) as well as the public policy implications of these. It also touches upon some of the institutional elements that handicaps governments from undertaking necessary corrective measures/action such as in the case of Malawi where tobacco accounts for a substantial part of the country’s GDP.
In an earlier study in 2016 entitled “Consumer Protection in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Exploration of “Big Tobacco” Marketing Practices”, these same authors had added a third SSA country, i.e., Mauritius, to the sample, comparing the regulatory experiences and implications for consumer protection in these countries and especially in the case of vulnerable groups such as children. By highlighting the marketing practices of global tobacco giants exploiting the weak regulatory environment in SSA, notably Malawi, Mauritius, and Nigeria. The choice of countries is based on a BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) documentary, which highlighted the marketing practices of Big Tobacco in these countries.
(a) Drawing from the above, comment on the availability of “single sticks” of cigarette and the non-adoption of plain packaging in sub-Saharan Africa. (10 marks).
(b) Which of these tobacco marketing practices is more prominent in Rwanda, and what are the policy implications?(10 marks).
Having completed the exam, and in the course of putting this article together, I came across some interesting articles. For example, the 2018 article “Cigarette prices in eight sub-Saharan African countries in 2018: a cross-sectional analysis” by Kiara Chang, Emily Mayne, Anthony A Laverty, Israel Agaku, Filippos T Filippidis — covering eight sub-Saharan African countries (Botswana, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe). That study concluded thus:
“Our findings showed a large variation in cigarette price differential of eight sub-Saharan African countries studied. There was also a wide availability of single cigarettes in countries where their sale is prohibited. Strengthened implementation of tobacco control measures are urgently needed in these sub-Saharan African countries to counteract the increasing penetration of tobacco industry and its potential health consequences.”
Finally, an earlier 2017 article, “Threats, bullying, lawsuits: tobacco industry’s dirty war for the African market,” published in the UK Guardian described Tobacco as “A Deadly Business.” The link to that article by Sarah Boseley in Nairobi around this time five years ago (12 July 2017), can be accessed at “The tobacco industry’s march on Africa — video explainer | Global | The Guardian.”
That’s it … I’m off to marking — let’s see what they have to say.