By Tobias Lengnan Dapam

A new report launched yesterday by the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), has revealed that the tobacco industry is cleverly exploiting social networking platforms to
promote their Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS) activities, market tobacco products,
and circumvent Nigeria’s National Tobacco Control Act 2015 and its regulations.

The report, “Tobacco Industry Capture of the Virtual Space in Nigeria”, documents how
British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN), through its charity arm British American
Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF), Philip Morris International Nigeria Limited (PMINL)
and other tobacco entities operating in Nigeria perform visibility activities that burnish
their images, distance them from the harms of their products, and attract favourable
comments on the internet.

The research, supported by a grant from the International Union Against Tuberculosis and
Lung Disease (The Union) on behalf of STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog,
researched popular social networking platforms between 2016 and 2021 and flagged
226 activities involving tobacco companies and their allies in Nigeria. The activities are
categorized under CSR, promotions, recognition, endorsement, partnerships, advertising,
and sponsorships.
It documented how tobacco companies while embarking on their CSR activities deploy
different strategies to gain the affection of policymakers, reflect partnerships and
collaboration with state institutions and organizations that ultimately help them build good
public ratings.

It also exposed growing cases of tobacco industry vendors such as Smoke
Box Ng and Da Smoke Hub flouting the ban on advertising, promotion, and sponsorships
by using their social media platforms to flagrantly market tobacco products.

The report listed some of the platforms most exploited by the tobacco industry to include; include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube,
Instagram, Blogs, and LinkedIn, while the sectors the industry is most active include agriculture, education, and entertainment.

“The most visibility activities performed by the tobacco industry were observed in 2018 and 2021.”
The report also observed that certain gaps in the National Tobacco Control Act 2015, and
National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019 as regards the ban on Tobacco Advertising
Promotion and Sponsorships (TAPS) provide allowances for the tobacco industry to carry
on business as usual in contravention of tobacco control in Nigeria.

It noted that with over
109.2 million internet users at the start of January 2022, the increasing usage of the
internet in Nigeria bolstered by its burgeoning young demographic, comprising more than
70 percent of its over 200 million population, makes it a highly desirable market for the
tobacco industry.

This research reflects that the online activities of the tobacco industry in Nigeria threaten
tobacco control and undermine tobacco control laws.

“These threats include the
normalization of the tobacco industry and its products, unchecked advertising, promotions,
and sponsorships, unrestricted sales of tobacco products to minors, and increased harm to public health among other perils. The implications of these observations are that the
tobacco industry is strategically using the new media and internet to connect and attract
millions of users while readily accepting strict advertising bans in traditional media.

The report, therefore, urged the Nigerian government to urgently “Protect public health policies with respect to tobacco control from commercial
and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in line with Article 5.3 of the
WHO-FCTC and commit to implementing these measures across all branches of
government that may have an interest in, or the capacity to, affect public health
policies with respect to tobacco control.
“The government should strictly enforce Section 12 of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 which
prohibits all forms of TAPS including CSR that advertise or promote the tobacco
“Government should ensure legal provisions and terms in the National Tobacco Control Act, 2015,
that are vague, without interpretation, and likely to be subjectively interpreted by
the tobacco industry and its allies. This includes providing clear definitions of terms
such as “internet”, “mail”, “online”, and “social media” that address TAPS in the
virtual space.
“We urge them to strictly enforce Section 25 of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 which
stipulates transparency, openness, and publicly available records of meetings and
all interactions with the tobacco industry.
“They should train and engage the media, social media professionals, and digital influencers to
raise awareness of the dangers of TAPS on the internet and play crucial roles in
safeguarding the virtual platforms from TI manipulation.
“Government should strengthen collaboration among relevant MDAs to perform oversight functions
including, actively monitor and flag infractions of tobacco policies on the internet by
the tobacco industry.
“Government should enforce penalties for TAPS and tobacco control violations in compliance and
accordance with national tobacco control and policy.“

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