The Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa launched its latest research report, TOBACCO INDUSTRY CAPTURE OF THE VIRTUAL SPACE IN NIGERIA at a press conference held on Monday, June 20, 2022, in FCT Abuja, Nigeria. Thirty (30) participants – comprising of representatives of key government agencies such as the National Orientation Agency, notable civil society organizations such as the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance (NCTA), Centre for Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA), Abuja Smoke-free Club, and media outfits like the Africa Independent Television, Television Continental, Guardian newspapers, and International Centre for Investigative Reporting among others attended the event. The research study was supported by STOP – a global tobacco industry watchdog – through a grant provided by the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union).[spacer height=”25px”]
Whilst giving his opening remarks, Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director, CAPPA, acknowledged the research study as a well-documented publication of how the tobacco industry in Nigeria is craftily using social networking sites to burnish its image and foster partnerships with state actors and institutions in contravention of provisions of the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 and its Regulations. Along this line, he urged the Nigerian government, media, and civil society to consider the recommendations in the report which include demanding accountability from the tobacco industry, protecting public health policies from the vested interests and interference of the tobacco industry, enforcing penalties for tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorships (TAPS) and tobacco control violations in compliance and accordance with national tobacco control and policy.
Presenting the research findings, Martins Ogunlade, Programme Manager, CAPPA explained the methodology and results of the study. The research extensively tracked and analyzed the visibility activities of the tobacco industry in Nigeria in the virtual space from 2016 – 2021. The investigative research which examined Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and a host of other social networking platforms flagged a total of 226 activities involving tobacco companies and their allies in Nigeria. These activities were categorized and analyzed according to specifics such as Tobacco industry preferred social networking channels of the tobacco industry, Preferred social networking channels per tobacco company/vendor, Tobacco Advertising Promotion and Sponsorships (TAPS), and other visibility activities on the internet, Years with the highest documentation of tobacco industry visibility actions, Sectors captured by the tobacco industry’s CSR initiatives, Regions and States in the country most targeted, and Tobacco Industry Entities, Allies, and Partners. Findings from the research revealed that tobacco companies and their allies in Nigeria use Facebook the most to engage in visibility activities followed by Twitter, and YouTube in the period under review.
Phillip Jakpor, Director of Programmes, CAPPA, narrated how tobacco companies while embarking on their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, deploy varying strategies to court partnerships and collaboration with state institutions that ultimately help them build public health ratings. In particular, British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN), through its charity arm, British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF) enjoys a cozy relationship with some state authorities like the Lagos and Oyo State governments. The research findings showed that tobacco companies’ CSR initiatives are usually undertaken in partnership with state authorities who endorse the CSR activities of the tobacco industry and publicly celebrate their partnerships in brazen violation of Nigeria’s national tobacco control policies and Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation Framework on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC). These illicit partnerships help tobacco companies gain legitimacy and garner positive ratings in the public.
Zikora Ibeh, Policy and Research Analyst, CAPPA also mentioned that tobacco vendors and distributors such as Smokehubng and Dasmokehub use social media platforms, especially Facebook and Instagram to aggressively promote the sales of tobacco products and paraphernalia, including a smoking culture that thrives on showcasing media content of Nigerian music icons and entertainers smoking profusely. While Nigeria’s national tobacco control legislation prohibits the sale of tobacco products on the internet, mail, and online, it fails to offer an encompassing definition of what constitutes ‘‘tobacco products’’. Tobacco products are defined as ‘‘products entirely or partly made of the leaf tobacco as raw materials which are manufactured to be used for smoking, sucking’’. This definition is limiting as it excludes tobacco products or paraphernalia such as smoke crushers, e-cigarettes, and cigarette wrapping papers which are tobacco-related items marketed aggressively on the internet by tobacco vendors.
Reacting to the stark revelations in the report, participants expressed concern about the findings of the report. They unanimously agreed on the need for tobacco control authorities and advocates to pay attention to the recommendations outlined in the report for halting the visibility operations of the tobacco industry on the internet that normalize tobacco products, constitute TAPS, facilitate the unrestricted sales of tobacco products to minors and increased harm to public health among other perils.[spacer height=”25px”]