UK Diplomats Lobbying for Tobacco: Burundi

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A Freedom Of Information (FOI) request submitted by British charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) revealed repeated contact between 2013 and 2017 between Pacific Tobacco International (PTI), an independent tobacco company based in Zimbabwe, and UK embassy staff and diplomats in Burundi.1

This is despite strict UK government guidelines governing the engagement of British officials working overseas with tobacco companies,2, designed to limit contact and support compliance with article 5.3 of the FCTC.3

UK Diplomats Assisting Tobacco Company in Burundi

The FOI revealed that senior staff, including the Ambassador at the time (William Gedding), and his predecessor (Ben Llewellyn-Jones), have had repeated contact with PTI in relation to “a long-running compensation claim dating back to 2004 by PTI against the government of Burundi, following PTI being evicted from their premises with some assets seized or damaged”.1 The FOI does not state who represented PTI in discussions with the British officials. From 2014 to 2017 the company’s Global CEO was Nick Hales, a former British American Tobacco executive.4

The repeated contact between British officials and PTI included a formal letter, phone calls and meeting, and served “to update FCO officials on the slow-moving dispute, and as occasionally appropriate, to offer assistance to try and resolve it”.1 The recorded purpose of some of the contact was to “to determine what assistance could be given” or “where UK could and could not help”.1 One meeting in the capital Bujumbura in August 2017, involving the Ambassador and the Senior Advisor of the President of Burundi, was to “to discuss resolution options for the dispute”.1

The apparent justification for UK government involvement with PTI was that the company is “owned by a British national”.1 The PTI website states that the company’s Chairman is Adam Molai,5 the founder of Savannah Tobacco which rebranded as PTI in 2017. It presents itself as a “proudly Zimbabwean” company,6 and, from the information disclosed, its past or present involvement in Burundi is unclear.

Issue of Concern

The FCTC and UK guidelines state that “Posts must not…Engage with local foreign governments on behalf of the tobacco industry, except in cases where local policies could be considered protectionist or discriminatory”.2 Given the lack of detail and context in the FOI it is not at all clear whether this is the case in Burundi.

Since the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) came into force in 2005, there have been several instances of direct lobbying by British diplomats overseas on behalf of British American Tobacco (BAT) and its subsidiaries, with repeated contact between UK government overseas staff and the company. For more information see the TobaccoTactics pages below

TobaccoTactics Resources

Influencing foreign tobacco legislation via diplomats is a known tobacco industry tactic. Also see:

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  1. abcdefUK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Information in relation to contacts with tobacco companies, May 2018, accessed June 2018
  2. abDepartment of Health, United Kingdom’s revised guidelines for overseas posts on support to the tobacco industry, December 2013, accessed June 2018
  3. World Health Organization, Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3. of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, 2008, accessed June 2018
  4. N. Hales, Linked Profile,, undated, accessed July 2018
  5. Pacific Cigarette Company, About Us, PTI website, 2018, accessed June 2018
  6. N. Mawson, Dreaming big in Zimbabwe,, 8 September 2016, accessed June 2018
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