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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

New report details tobacco industry’s inroads into Nigeria’s virtual space

The Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) on Monday, June 20, 2022, released a report detailing how the tobacco industry is creatively using social networking platforms to promote their Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS) activities and evading a ban on Tobacco Advertising Promotion and Sponsorships (TAPS) mandated by the National Tobacco Control Act 2015.

CAPPA
L-R: Ogunlade Olamide, CAPPA Programme Manager; Akinbode Oluwafemi, CAPPA Executive Director; Philip Jakpor, CAPPA Director of Programmes; and Zikora Ibeh, CAPPA Policy and Research Officer, at the launch of the report in Abuja

The report, titled “Tobacco Industry Capture of the Virtual Space in Nigeria”, documents how companies such as 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 polish 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 categorised under CSR, promotions, recognition, endorsement, partnerships, advertising, and sponsorships.

According to the report, 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 organisations 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, allegedly flouting the ban on advertising, promotion, and sponsorships by using their social media platforms to flagrantly market tobacco products. Some of the platforms most exploited by the tobacco industry 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.

CAPPA Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said that to adequately capture the activities of the tobacco industry visibilized online, the report is categorized into Tobacco industry preferred social networking channels, the years with the highest documentation of tobacco industry visibility actions in the virtual space, Sectors captured by the tobacco industry’s CSR initiatives, Regions, and States in the country most targeted, and Tobacco Industry Entities, Allies, and Partners.

He revealed that tobacco Industry most preferred and exploited digital and internet channels between 2016 and 2021 is Facebook which recorded 40%, Twitter 36%, and Youtube 14% in the period under review.  This was followed by Instagram 5%, Blog/Website 3%, and Linkedin 2%.

CAPPA Director of Programmes, Philip Jakpor, said that the promotion of tobacco industry activities was amplified more by the Lagos and Oyo State Governments as well as public entities that the tobacco industry partnered with to execute so-called empowerment and support initiatives.

“These public institutions provided news content by openly announcing partnerships with the tobacco industry, lauding and recognising their supposed philanthropic contributions. This worrisome trend of endorsement that tobacco industry CSR receive from them tend to give legitimacy to their claim of being socially responsible,” Jakpor added.

On how CAPPA arrived at the findings, Ogunlade Olamide, CAPPA Programme Manager, said that the research involved the training and deploying of social media monitor to scan online publications and posts by the tobacco industry on social networking sites. The research covered the years 2016 and 2021 and analysing them.

Olamide explained that the tobacco industry visibility engagements were more noticeable in the years 2018 to 2021.

The report revealed that tobacco vendors and distributors such as Smokehubng and Dasmokehub, use their social media platforms to aggressively promote sales of tobacco products and a smoking culture which relies largely on promoting content showing Nigerian music icons smoking profusely.

The report urged the Nigerian government to:

  • 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.
  • 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 industry.
  • Review 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.  
  • Enforce penalties for TAPS and tobacco control violations in compliance and accordance with national tobacco control and policy.

Civil Society Organisations to:

  • Sensitise the public on provisions of Nigeria’s national tobacco control policies including the dangers of tobacco products.
  • Call out and hold the tobacco industry accountable for activities that violate the NTC Act 2015 and the NTC Regulations 2019.
  • Continually urge the Nigerian government to strictly enforce and implement provisions of the NTC Act 2015, and the NTC Regulations 2019 that regulate and monitor the activities of the tobacco industry in the virtual and non-virtual space.
  • Prevail on relevant state actors and institutions to put public safety and health above profits. 

The Media to:

  • Assist in shaping public narratives on the dangers of tobacco use.
  • Institute internal mechanisms that monitor and sieve out media reports, releases, and news items that advance or promote the business of TI in the virtual space.
  • Engage in media advocacy to strengthen the effectiveness of tobacco control policies and laws.

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