The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that smoking kills more than 8 million people every year. While the WHO African Region has the lowest smoking prevalence of all WHO regions (roughly 6% of the world's smokers), transnational tobacco companies are aggressively investing and marketing their products in the continent, hindering efforts towards lowering tobacco use prevalence. Currently, over 77 million adults smoke in Africa and this figure is expected to grow steadily over the next century, reaching 413 million smokers by 2100. (1) A more immediate concern is that the number of smokers in Africa (based on 2010 levels) is anticipated to rise from 15.8% to 21.9% by 2030, the largest projected increase in the world. (2) Here we focus on the main tobacco companies operating in Africa: Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands and Japan Tobacco International, and on their attempts to increase the supply and demand of tobacco to the African market.
Illicit trade and smuggling
Each of the tobacco companies, but most notably Philip Morris and British American Tobacco, have a long history of participating in the illicit trade of tobacco to force market entry into new and emerging markets, including Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. (3) Tobacco companies spread misinformation surrounding illicit tobacco trade and purposely overestimate the extent of illicit tobacco trade to dissuade governments from adopting tobacco control measures such as tobacco tax increases and pictorial health warning labels. (4) However, previous research analysing internal tobacco industry documents from British American Tobacco reveal that the company has been involved in smuggling in at least 40 of the 54 African countries. (5) These smuggling trends began in the 1980s and continue to persist. (6) Recent media reports document an upsurge in smuggled cigarettes, most notably of popular brands such as Philip Morris' Marlboro and Japan Tobacco International's Camel cigarettes from the two leading market share tobacco companies in the region, (7) in several countries including Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Morocco and South Africa. (2,4,6) In Morocco, a recent study reports that one out of eight cigarettes is illicit and mostly smuggled from neighbouring Algeria. (6) For example, a legal pack of Marlboro cigarettes is sold in Morocco for 3.38 United States dollars (US$) while the same smuggled packs from Algeria and Mauritania cost only US$ 1.91 and US$ 1.35 per pack, respectively. (6)
An important tactic that tobacco companies continue to use to prevent policy measures designed to stop the supply side of illicit tobacco trade is entering...