Uganda- BAT Marketing Strategies

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Tobacco Regulation in Uganda

There are a handful of Ugandan laws relating to various aspects of tobacco control. Primarily, these laws include: Tobacco (Control and Marketing) Act (1967), Public Health Act (1964), Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (1995), National Environment Act (1996), the National Environment Regulations (2004) and the Tobacco Control Act (2015).

Until 2015, Uganda had no comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and  sponsorship, although there were bans on smoking in hospitals, universities, and government buildings
Uganda signed the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) first global public health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005, and ratified the Framework in 2007. After efforts to pass a Tobacco Control Bill stalled in 2012, efforts focused on implementing an adequate, up-to-date tobacco control law, the Uganda Tobacco Control Bill 2014 (UTCB), that later became the Tobacco Control Act 2015.
British American Tobacco Uganda (BATU) made many efforts to stall this legislation. Up until 2013, BATU widely advertised, marketed and promoted its products through media,  and sponsorships. This was in direct conflict with the existing legislation at the time, voluntary agreements on direct advertising with the Ugandan Government, its own International Marketing Principles and the FCTC.1

The Tobacco Control Act 2015 (TCA) came into force in May 2016, after BATU’s legal challenges were dismissed by the Constitutional Court of Uganda.23 The TCA introduced several regulations, seeking to implement the FCTC. Regulations included: a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; 100% smoke free public places; pictorial health warnings covering 65% of tobacco packaging and tobacco taxes.4 For more information on the Tobacco Control Act 2015, see the Timeline of Industry Interference Concerning the Uganda Tobacco Control Act 2015 and Uganda Country Profile.

This page explores the marketing techniques utilised by BATU, particularly those which target youth.

BATU and Children

A 2013 Uganda National Tobacco Control Association (UNTCA) report monitoring FCTC implementation in Uganda concluded that BATU actively sought to increase demand for their products within the underage population of Uganda, making youth the focus of their advertising and marketing at promotional events known to appeal to them.5
The findings of the 2011 Global Youth Tobacco Survey, a school-based survey focusing on 13-15 year-olds, support the conclusions of UNTCA, concluding that:

* One in ten students had been offered free cigarettes by a representative of a tobacco company and the same proportion had been given merchandise with tobacco company logos on it;

* Over half had seen pro-cigarette advertising on billboards in the 30 days preceding the survey and nearly half had seen pro-cigarette advertising in magazines and newspapers.6

In 2013, monitoring efforts reported that the tobacco industry produced cigarette-shaped sweets and sold them individually near schools.7 In doing so, the industry markets the appeal of its product to children. Studies show that children who consume candy cigarettes are more likely to become smokers.8 Knowing that many children in Africa who start smoking will purchase cheap single stick cigarettes, giving candy cigarettes can encourage smoking habits.8

BATU: Forms of Marketing and Advertising

Before the TCA came into force in 2016, BATU engaged in many different marketing activities to increase demand for their products. Such activities include: point-of-sale advertising, sponsorship of events, Corporate Social Responsibility as brand promotion, self-promotion disguised as consumer notices, and campaigns against illicit trade. Some of these tactics are discussed below. The tobacco Control Act 2015 bans all those activities.4

Point of Sale Advertising

Point of sale advertising of BATU products is widespread across Uganda, especially in cities such as Kampala.9 Various brands can be seen advertised at the entryways to restaurants, clubs, and supermarkets; displayed along the roadside of busy streets; and presented in catchy displays in vendor shops and kiosks. See images below of BATU’s recent advertising in Uganda, collected as evidence for a 2013 Uganda tobacco monitoring report.

Advertisement Disguised as “Consumer Notices”

In East Africa, BAT has been accused of advertising in places where tobacco advertising bans exist. BAT’s justification is that these are not advertisements but communications to consumers regarding changes to their tobacco products. In June 2014, a ‘Notice to Consumers’ appeared in a Kenyan newspaper informing consumers of changes it was making to its Embassy cigarettes (see Image 5). Such notices are easily interpreted as advertising BAT cigarettes. Moreover, this advertisement is promoting single stick cigarettes, which are also prohibited.
In image 6, BAT says it was informing its consumers of the cost of its available brands. However, the layout and presentation of the information is more typical of an advertisement.

Image 5. June 2014 consumer notice advertisement

Image 6. BATU consumer notice advertisement10


BAT has an established track record of sponsoring a variety of popular events. Such sponsorships have included:

* Sponsoring and chairing the Commonwealth Business Forum.11

*Launching its ‘Dunhill’ brand of cigarettes at an event at a luxury resort in Uganda.12

*Spending $70,000 to sponsor a 10-day Jua Kali exhibition inclusive of publicity, media coverage, souvenirs, security, and hospitality.13

Sponsorship at Youth Orientated Events

Examples of BATU’s sponsorship of youth-oriented events include:

*BATU’s ‘Think and Win’ competition allowed tobacco consumers of any age (children included) to enter into a raffle if they purchased five single Embassy cigarettes (Image 7). The grand prize was a luxury holiday to South Africa. A promotional event for this campaign was hosted at a football event in Kampala, widely attended by children (see Image 8).14

*Spending $70,000 to sponsor an East African trade fair in Tanzania, widely attended by Ugandans and children under the age of 18, including many school groups. The event included a BAT-sponsored VIP hospitality area.15

* Sponsoring the education of over 200 students in fields including medicine, law, commerce, and engineering.16

Image 7. Poster for BATU’s “Think and Win” competition

Image 8. Children at a BATU “Think and Win” promotion

Corporate Social Responsibility and Youth Smoking Prevention Programmes

BAT has also used Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) events as opportunities to market its products and enhance its reputation. Despite what the company’s representatives say in public, internal documents outline BAT’s use of CSR as a means of self-promotion. The company’s Corporate and Regional Affairs (CORA) plan for the African region in 2001-2002, states that the aim of CSR-related activities is to:

“reassure those stakeholders who directly or indirectly influence British American Tobacco’s license to operate that the Company is meeting its commercial objectives in a manner which is consistent with reasonable public expectations of a responsible tobacco company in the 21st century.” 17

The plan also called for the identification of “suitable activity that we may undertake, outside of our own business, in order to enhance our corporate reputation.”18 One of these activities involved a “high profile” Youth Smoking Prevention programme.
Another internal document detailing the company’s strategy in the African region explains some of the activities intended to manage its reputation and enhance its influence in Africa:

“There are increasing challenges targeting the reputation of the industry and the company and it is crucial that the company’s reputation be managed extremely well…

“We will enhance our corporate image and influence to achieve the status of the authoritative voice on tobacco issues through:

* Building and enhancing strong relations with authorities, regulators and the communities.

* Demonstrating our positive corporate citizenship via community and other sponsorships.” 19

An excerpt (see Image 9) from a regional review of BAT’s Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in Africa revealed some of the ways the company extended its influence under the ruse of corporate relations and community engagement. For example, by seeking “government relations” and “effective community involvement programmes”, BAT avoided a proposed ad ban in Sierra Leone, revived television advertising in Kenya and Uganda, and stalled a tobacco control bill in Kenya in exchange for a softer bill.20
The same document also suggested that BAT used its relationship with an organisation active in the community, the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA), to draw public attention to the value of tobacco growing on its behalf. ITGA is a known front-group of the tobacco industry, financed by multinational tobacco companies to lobby against tobacco control legislation.21 Although it presents itself as an independent representative of tobacco growers worldwide, it is linked to the objectives of the tobacco industry.

Image 9. BAT efforts to maintain “marketing freedoms”22

BAT Uganda also used media attention focused on civic engagement to promote their brand. For example, a publicised congratulatory message (see Image 10) which commended the Uganda Revenue Authority on its new Authorised Economic Operator scheme was an attempt by BATU to improve its reputation; advertising to the public that it is “one of only 10 companies in the country” selected to be part of the scheme.

Image 10. BAT Congratulatory Message as self-promotion. Source: archives

A Responsible Company in a Controversial Industry

Internal documents show that in 2000 BAT hired brand promotion consultancy firm Red 14 to help BAT become a “responsible company in a controversial industry”. In slides presented to BAT, Red 14 underlined the need for the company to evolve its reputation in an attempt to shed the “highly destructive” effects of “inappropriate brand promotion” of the company in Africa, especially since “Africa is under the microscope” and such actions were under great scrutiny (see Image 11).23 The slides suggested that the benefits of this “evolution” include an “effective and sustainable Best Practice brand promotion” and “a clear demonstration of BAT’s commitment to absolute responsibility in a susceptible region”.23
Research published by the Tobacco Control Research Group supports these findings. A paper published in November 2013 on the tobacco industry and corporate philanthropy concluded that tobacco companies primarily use CSR-related activities to “secure political gains, particularly to gain access to policy makers, build community support for policy positions, constituency fragmentation, reputation and credibility enhancement, and agenda setting.”24 A similar paper on political CSR also details the tobacco industry’s established use of CSR to further their self-interested aims.25
The evidence suggests that then ultimate aim of BAT’s charitable acts in Uganda is to advance it’s corporate interests.

Image 11. BAT’s need for evolution23

The Bottom Line

Although BAT insists it strives to act responsibly and transparently, the above practices raise  questions about business ethics and standards. In addition, many of these tactics are prohibited in countries where BAT sells its products, are discouraged by the FCTC, and violate the company’s own business mandates. Given the way BAT has conducted its business in Uganda, it is perhaps not surprising that they have taken extreme measures to fight current efforts to implement tobacco control legislation.

For more information on how the tobacco industry uses corporate social responsibility activities as a tactic to interfere in public health and tobacco control regulations, go to Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy.

The Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2020 has reviewed 57 countries around the world, to assess the level of tobacco industry interference. See Uganda’s report at: Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2020 – Uganda

TobaccoTactics Resources

TCRG Resources

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  1. Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa, Tobacco Industry Monitoring Regional Report for Africa, August 2013
  2. Rusoke, Taddeo & Talibita, Moses & Kirigwajjo, Moses & Wanyonyi, Emma, Africa Tobacco Industry Monitoring Country Report for Uganda, DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.30178.76482, September 2020, accessed November 2020
  3. Tobacco Control Laws, BAT Uganda Ltd v. Attorney General & Center for Health, Human Rights and Development, 2016, accessed December 2020
  4. abThe Union, Uganda passes tobacco control law in line with the world’s most stringent policies, 28 July 2015, accessed December 2020
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  6. Global Youth Tobacco Survey, Uganda 2011 Ages 13-15 Global Youth Tobacco Survey Fact Sheet, 2011, accessed June 2014
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  11. Jackie Tumwine, Uganda: BAT Sponsorship Unnaceptable, 27 August 2007, accessed December 2020
  12. Uganda National Tobacco Control Association, Shadow Report on the Status of Implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) Articles 8 and 13 in Uganda 2012, May 2013
  13. New Vision, BAT to Sponsor Jua Kali Exhibition, 26 October 2006, accessed December 2020
  14. Tobacco Control, Uganda: Think and Win- BAT Hasn’t Changed, Tobacco Control 9:268, 2007, accessed June 2014
  15. Action on Smoking and Health, You’ve Got to be Kidding: How BAT Promotes its Brands to Young People Around the World, 2007, accessed June 2014
  16. John Eremu, Over 200 Benefited from BAT Scholarships, New Vision, 3 June 2002, accessed June 2014
  17. British American Tobacco, Regional CORA Guidelines: MESCA 2001-2002, accessed June 2014
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  20. British American Tobacco, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 1996, accessed June 2014
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  23. abc
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