Uganda- BAT’s Tactics to Undermine the Tobacco Control Bill

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BATU: A Major Player in East Africa’s Tobacco Industry

British American Tobacco Uganda (BATU), a subsidiary of British American Tobacco (BAT), has been a major driver of East Africa’s tobacco industry since it first started business in Uganda in the 1920’s.

In 2020, the company has a near-monopoly on Uganda’s tobacco market, with 51.7% of overall volume sales.1 (Based on Euromonitor data).

In 2013, BATU reported to have contracted 18,000 tobacco farmers, which resulted in the production of 16.8 million kilos of tobacco.2 In that same year, the company provided direct employment for 200 Ugandans alongside 1500 seasonal positions.2 Because the company also controls the selection and provision of all necessary agricultural inputs to its contracted tobacco farmers, such as seeds and fertilizer, and because its farmers are prohibited from selling tobacco to anyone else, BATU also has direct control over the tobacco farming system in Uganda.3 In 2020, there were an estimated 75,000 farmers relying on the tobacco crop.1

Uganda’s Tobacco Control Act 2015: An Unwelcome Challenge for BATU

In 2005, Uganda signed the WHO’s first global public health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and later ratified it in 2007. This, in combination with the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, which guarantees the right to health and a clean environment, motivated the drafting of the Uganda Tobacco Control Act 2015 (TCA) On 6 March 2014, the first draft of the TCA was presented before the Parliament of Uganda.4

The TCA, the most progressive tobacco control measure implemented in the country, sought to “regulate the manufacture, sale, labelling, promotion, advertising, distribution, public use of tobacco products, and sponsoring of tobacco products”.5
Research conducted as part of the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, representative of the entire population of Uganda, showed that the vast majority of the public supported measures associated with the TCA. Nine out of ten Ugandan adults favoured both an increase in taxes on tobacco products and a complete ban on tobacco advertising (88.2% and 89.3% respectively).6
Given the tobacco industry’s track record of opposing regulations it argued would affect its profits, it is not surprising that BATU has been outspoken against the UTCB, employing many tactics to stall its passage.

BATU’s Public Arguments Against the Tobacco Control Act 2015: Same Story, Different Context

BATU proffered a variety of arguments to oppose the measures set out in the TCA. In a letter dated 14th April, 2014 to the Parliamentary Committee on Health, BATU detailed its arguments against the TCA. The main arguments included:

  • It would promote illicit trade. Many of the measures, such as display bans and graphic health warnings, will spur illicit trade of tobacco products by “driving legal tobacco sales under the counter”.
  • There was no evidence it would work. BATU stressed the lack of a “statistically significant direct relationship between tobacco packaging regulation…and changes in smoking prevalence rates or aggregate cigarette consumption.” In the letter, BATU did not provide any evidence to the contrary.
  • Doing so would threaten livelihoods. According to BATU, not only would the TCA risk the occupations of the thousands of tobacco farmers in Uganda, but it would also mean reduced earnings and added risk for small–scale retailers.
  • It’s “unreasonable”. Not only that, but BATU stated the proposed regulations were “unrealistic”, “draconian”, and “unenforceable given the retail platform in Uganda.”2

These tactics mirror the responses typically seen by the tobacco industry in other parts of the world. For example, tobacco companies and third-parties who lobby on its behalf have been able to stall the passage of legislation, such as the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive, and plain packaging legislation in both Australia and the UK. For more information see:

Behind the Scenes: BAT’s Tactics to Stall the Tobacco Control Act 2015 (TCA)


Image 1. Confidential document of BATU’s Key Concerns Regarding the UTCB

Promoting Single Cigarette Sales

Two leaked documents obtained by the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath revealed that, unbeknown to most, in order to oppose the TCA, BATU employed tactics which contradict its own marketing code of conduct and threatened the Parliamentarian sponsoring the bill.
The first, a confidential internal document outlining the tobacco company’s key concerns with the TCA revealed BATU violated its own marketing mandates by proposing that the selling of single cigarettes (single sticks) should not be prohibited (as suggested by Clause 15(5) of the TCA)5 as it failed to “take into account the economic realities of Uganda”, adding that “consumers should be free to purchase what they can afford” (see Image 1).7
The sale of single cigarettes is illegal in many countries with tobacco control policies, as it is known to appeal to children and under-age smokers who may not have the purchasing power to obtain a whole pack of cigarettes.8 In BAT’s own International Marketing Principles available on their global website, the company recognises that single sticks are particularly attractive to youth and stresses that they do not support the selling or marketing of single sticks. Yet the confidential internal document revealed that the company was in fact pursuing objectives that were directly contradictory to its mandate and illegal in many parts of the world.


Image 2. Confidential BAT Letter to Sponsor of UTCB

BATU Intimidating MP Sponsoring the UTCB in a Confidential Letter

The second confidential internal document obtained by the Tobacco Control Research Group proved that BATU privately communicated with the Parliamentarian (MP) who was the main sponsor of the TCA, withdrawing their support from his constituency (see Image 2).9
In the letter to the MP sponsoring the bill, dated 19 March 2014, BATU Managing Director Jonathan D’Souza wrote:
“We would normally start contracting farmers in the area during May but due to the economics of the operation, compounded by the uncertainty around the sector going forward, we regret to inform you that we will not be contracting farmers in Kihihi for the 2014/15 season.”9
The letter cites two reasons for this uncertainty: the “proposed imposition of a tax on tobacco leaf exports” and “the repeal of the Tobacco (Control & Marketing) Act as proposed in the Tobacco Control Bill 2014”.9
Mr. D’Souza explained that these challenges make it “impossible for us to commit at this point, to another season of tobacco sponsorship in Kihihi.”9 The letter ended by reminding the MP that BATU was “requesting the Government to reconsider the issues noted”. Attached to the letter was a list of the names of the 709 tobacco farmers in the MP’s constituency that would no longer receive the tobacco company’s support as a result of the MP’s support of the TCA.

Meeting Secretly with Parliamentarians

In an effort to lobby legislators associated with the TCA, BATU wrote the Ugandan Clerk to Parliament to request a meeting with MPs from tobacco growing regions. In the letter, Jonathan D’Souza (Managing Director, BATU), Rob Kelsall (Managing Director, Uganda Tobacco Services), and Gilberto Kohn (Regional Leaf Manager, Leaf Tobacco & Commodities) sought permission to “organize a meeting with Members of Parliament from the above tobacco growing regions to discuss a number of operational issues touching on tobacco activities in their respective constituencies.”10 Attached were the names of 53 MPs whose districts encompass tobacco growing regions and whose presence was requested at the meeting.10
A handwritten note on the letter suggests the meeting was granted and set for 17 April 2014, which was to be hosted at the Sheraton Hotel in Kampala. A leaked copy of the presentation BAT gave to the Parliamentarians of tobacco growing regions suggests the meeting was held on 11 April 2014.11 The slides of the presentation suggested that the company’s issues with the TCA, which they lobbied against in the meeting, included the proposals to:

  • Repeal the Tobacco (Control & Marketing) Act
  • Ban the display of tobacco products
  • Restrict smoking in public places and a radius of 100 m around them
  • Restrict the sale of tobacco products
  • Require large graphic health warnings on tobacco products
  • Limit and regulate communication between the tobacco industry and government representatives
  • Regulate advertising, promotion, and corporate social responsibility
  • Set the legal smoking age limit to 21

Local media sources also claimed BAT met in secret with relevant MPs to lobby them to oppose the TCA in Spring of 2014.12 Inside sources stated that BATU met the MPs on Wednesday 12 March 2014 at Kolping Hotel and the following day at the tobacco company’s offices and field locations and that attendees were “treated to a Cocktail dinner” and given “pocket allowances”.12 BATU did not deny the meeting, but claimed that it was “official” rather than secret, although attendees said it was a “surprise” and did not know about the meeting beforehand.12

Lobbying the Ministry of Trade Uganda

On several occasions, Civil society in Uganda has shown that the Ministry of Trade has interacted with the tobacco industry, in clear violations of the regulations imposed by the TCA and the FCTC.13 In April 2019, the Ugandan Ministry of Trade passed a draft of proposed tobacco regulations to BATU. This resulted in a letter from British American Tobacco Uganda providing input on the proposed regulations, which generated conflicts of interest.14

Lobbying against Regulation and Threatening to “Take Business Elsewhere”

The internal documents reveals the tobacco company’s other key concerns with the TCA include:

  • Legal smoking age. BATU was concerned with the TCA´s proposal to increase the legal smoking age limit from 18 to 21 (Clause 2)7 although the company widely broadcasts it is against appealing to young adult smokers.
  • Display bans. The display ban set forth in Clause 15(3) of the TCA requires vendors of tobacco products to keep these products from being publicly displayed in a manner considered to advance the allure of tobacco products. In response, BAT argued that customers have a “right to know what products are available, interact with them (touch, feel etc) then make a decision on what they will purchase” (parenthesis original).7 Such point-of-sale marketing techniques are found to be widely employed by the tobacco industry in Uganda despite attempts to regulate and restrict them.15
  • Corporate communication. The TCA prohibits corporate communication between the tobacco industry and the community, or corporate social responsibility.5 In the leaked document, BATU stressed that “corporate communication and corporate social responsibility must be distinguished from product advertising and promotion” in the legislation.7 BAT has a history of using Corporate Social Responsibility schemes as forms of advertising and marketing to youth in African countries, including Uganda. For more information on this, see the TobaccoTactics page on Uganda- BAT Marketing Strategies.

The leaked documents also provided insight into the company’s strategies in lobbying against the TCA. BATU suggested that if the TCA passed in to law (which occurred in May 2016), BATU would conduct less business within the country. This was illustrated by pointing out that if there was a “loss of business…and opportunity” in the Ugandan market, then “business will go elsewhere”; warning that the legislation puts “at risk the industry’s sponsorship of tobacco farmers”; and suggesting that “such investment may be lost to other economies with friendly business environments”.7
The documents also questioned the authority of policymakers, stating that “health ministries should deal with issues pertaining to public health and other appropriate/competent organ(isation)s deal with issues pertaining to their mandate.”7

Using Seemingly-Independent Front Groups to Promote Industry Objectives

To advance their influence, tobacco companies frequently use front groups, organisations that present themselves as independently promoting a pro-tobacco objective but are actually core-funded and mandated by the tobacco industry. By using a front group active in a community where tobacco legislation is being debated, the tobacco industry can create a political picture that suggests they are not the only ones against tobacco control, but that community and civil society sectors are opposed as well. Front groups are an extension of the tobacco industry, set up specifically to create the illusion of a stronger and more diverse opposition to tobacco control. For more information, see this page on tobacco industry front groups and the STOP database on tobacco industry allies around the world.

International Tobacco Growers Association

In Uganda, BATU has collaborated with a handful of front groups to oppose the TCA. In particular, the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) has been outspoken in opposition to tobacco control in Africa.
Although the ITGA claims to be a non-profit organisation representing the “millions of tobacco farmers” around the world,16 internal documents show it was actually set up and funded by the tobacco industry specifically to be a “Front” for the industry’s “Third World lobby activities”.17

Uganda Tobacco Growers Association

The Uganda Tobacco Growers Association (UTGA) has been very vocal against the TCA,  petitioning the Ugandan Government to withdraw key clauses in the bill.18 In an appeal to the Ugandan Parliament signed by over 5,000 farmers, the UTGA stated “We have not experienced the exaggerated negative effects of tobacco growing,” and went on to request the clause in the bill that prohibits voluntary contributions, incentives or privileges that promote tobacco business in Uganda.18
The UTGA was a member of the ITGA in 2014.19 As such, it was part of an organisation funded and mandated by multinational tobacco corporations. Therefore, their messages in opposition to the TCA were likely to mirror the tobacco industry’s priorities.

Nothing New: BATU’s History of Questionable Tactics and Double Standards in Uganda

This behaviour is not new. As evidenced by internal documents, academic literature, and media sources, BAT has conducted business in a questionable manner in the past. There is a clear contrast between the company’s conduct in Africa in comparison to its conduct in markets with greater levels of tobacco control regulation. 

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  1. abEuromonitor, Tobacco in Uganda. October 2020, accessed November 2020
  2. abcJonathan D’Souza, British American Tobacco Uganda, Submission by British American Tobacco Uganda Limited on the Tobacco Control Bill 2014, 14 April 2014
  3. 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
  4. Parliament of Uganda, Draft of the Tobacco Control Bill 2014, 28 February 2014, accessed December 2020
  5. abcParliament of Uganda, first draft of the UTCB The Tobacco Control Bill 2014, 28 February 2014, accessed June 2014
  6. Global Adult Tobacco Survey, Global Adult Tobacco Survey: Executive Summary 2013, Uganda, 4 July 2014, accessed December 2020
  7. abcdefBritish American Tobacco Uganda, Our Key Concerns With the Bill, 2014
  8. 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
  9. abcdJonathan D’Souza, British American Tobacco Uganda, Suspension of Tobacco Growing Operations in Kihihi, 19 March 2014
  10. abJonathan D’Souza, Rob Kelsall, and Gilberto Kohn, Request for a Meeting with Members of Parliament from Tobacco Growing Regions, 7 April 2014
  11. British American Tobacco, Tobacco Industry Key Concerns: The Tobacco Control Bill 2014: Presented to Selected MPs at Sheraton Hotel, 11 April 2014
  12. abcUganda Radio Network, MPs in Secret Meet with BAT Officials Over Tobacco Control Bill, 17 March 2014, accessed December 2020
  13. ATCA, Africa Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2020, 17 November 2020, accessed December 2020
  14. Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index, Uganda Country Factsheet, November 2020, accessed November 2020
  15. Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa, Tobacco Industry Monitoring Regional Report for Africa, August 2013
  16. International Tobacco Growers Association, Who We Are & What We Do, 2014, accessed December 2020
  17. International Tobacco Growers’ Association, John Bloxcidge, 11 October 1998, accessed 28 July 2011.
  18. abEdgar Angumya, Uganda: Farmers Up in Arms Over Uganda Tobacco Bill, All Africa, 25 June 2014, accessed July 2014
  19. International Tobacco Growers Association, Member Countries, 2014, accessed July 2014