Big Tobacco uses clever marketing ploys to target school kids in Africa

cameroon-yaounde-schools-kids-at-a-point-of-sale-where-cigarette-advertising-is-visibleTobacco companies are taking advantage of Africa’s weak tobacco control environment and using clever marketing tricks such as smaller packs, single cigarettes and flavoured cigarettes to lure young schooling children to smoke.

Most of this advertising takes place outside schools in convenience stores and through push carts — making  cigarettes and other tobacco products easily accessible and affordable to young children.

The aim of tobacco manufacturers, according to a report released by Africa Tobacco Control Alliance, is to create a new generation of smokers to maintain and expand the lucrative business of tobacco sales.

Increased smoking trends among children and adolescents  have become a global concern. Research shows that about 60% of smokers started the habit at the age 13 and were 90% hooked by the time they hit 20.

Tobacco use causes around 6 million deaths every year. Of these nearly 80% occur in low and middle-income countries. In Africa, about 21% of adult men and 3% of adult women smoke. Among young Africans, an estimated 21% of boys and 13% of girls use various tobacco products.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Africa Tobacco Control Alliance Executive Director Deowan Mohee said that while Africa has a lower smoking prevalence than other regions in the world, it is expected that, in the absence of tobacco control measures, this will increase by nearly 39% by 2030. Much of this would have to do with the industry’s aggressive sale and marketing strategies which target young people.

To curb this, African governments would need to take serious action. A critical step is adopting and implementing comprehensive tobacco control policies. At the centre of this is the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention for Tobacco Control. The convention is an international public health treaty guiding tobacco control policies globally. It was adopted in 2005 and over 180 countries across the world have ratified it.

 Smoking trends

The alliance’s report is based on  a survey it conducted in conjunction with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and several African based non-government organisations.

It includes the findings of a survey conducted in five African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria and Uganda. The survey looked at the sale and marketing tactics that multinational tobacco companies used to promote and sell cigarettes outside schools in these countries.

There were several areas including:

  • whether cigarettes were sold around schools?
  • how these cigarettes were sold in stores around schools?
  • how these cigarettes were advertised around schools?
  • how the cigarettes were advertised and promoted? and
  • whether there as a no sale to minors signpost in the stores

In all five countries, there were several types of tobacco sale outlets in a 100m radius of the schools This included convenience stores/groceries, supermarkets, coffee shops, permanent or temporary kiosks and push carts.

Countries that have ratified the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control have the legal and moral obligations to take measures to protect their populations, particularly vulnerable groups like children. But the report found there were four major strategies the tobacco industry uses to market its products to children around schools in Africa. These include:

  • Advertising and promotion,
  • Sale of single cigarettes,
  • Sale of child-friendly favoured cigarettes, and
  • Non-compliance with existing tobacco control laws.

It named two international tobacco companies — British American Tobacco and Philip Morris International — as two of  the main culprits that carried out intensive marketing strategies around schools that encourage tobacco use among children

Understanding the strategies

In all five countries the convenience or grocery stores  around the schools that formed part of the survey sold cigarettes.

Benin was worse off with just under 90% of the schools surveyed having convenience or grocery stores in the vicinity selling cigarettes. Nigeria had the least number of convenience stores selling cigarettes Only 33% of these schools had closeby convenience stores selling cigarettes.

In Benin, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon, most of the schools that were included had push carts in the vicinity of the schools. There were between 5 and 7 pushcarts per school.  In Burkina Faso, for example, there were 86 push carts around the 16 schools surveyed. This equates to more than five push carts per school.

According to the survey, cigarettes are advertised on or behind the counters in these stores  but often posters, structures or buildings, sidewalks, umbrellas, sale girls and the windows and doors of convenience stores or grocers are also used.

The products are also displayed alongside non-tobacco products, such as sweets and biscuits, which deliberately mislead children  to believe cigarettes are just like any other product they buy.

The cigarettes are also sold mostly in the form of single cigarettes, which are cheaper. Studies have shown that young children buy single cigarettes as they can smoke them straight away in the street and avoid the problem of detection.  These single cigarette sales are believed to encourage smoking by minors, many of whom cannot afford to buy an entire pack at one time.

Selling single cigarettes also undermines the public health benefits of health warning messages displayed on cigarette packs, as buyers of single cigarettes, including children, are not exposed to these messages.

In Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Benin, all the schools surveyed had stores in the surrounds that sold single cigarettes. In Uganda close to 95% sold single cigarettes  and in Nigeria just under 70% made single cigarettes available.

 But in addition to single cigarettes, flavoured cigarettes are sold around schools in 3 out of the 5 targeted countries Flavoured cigarettes are considered a “starter” product which facilitates tobacco initiation. The flavours make the tobacco products sweet and appealing to children and mask the harshness of nicotine and tobacco smoke.

The survey shows that the tobacco companies market flavoured cigarettes around schools in Benin, Cameroon and Uganda. In Benin, all the schools surveyed had stores around selling flavoured cigarettes. Uganda was least affected by this trend. Only 25% of the stores sold flavoured cigarettes.

Ignoring tobacco control laws

These marketing activities mostly violate existing national laws. For example in Nigeria and Uganda  there is a  legal ban on advertising and promoting tobacco products. And in Cameroon, the law prohibits outdoor advertising of tobacco products.

 Benin and Nigeria have also banned the sale of single cigarettes. In both countries, retail outlets must have signs showing that they are not allowed to sell cigarettes to minors. In the survey, none of the stores in Benin had these signs.

Benin, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Uganda have banned the sale of tobacco products to minors.

Cameroon, Uganda and Burkina Faso currently do not have legislative measures banning the sale of single cigarettes. And with the exception of Uganda, the other four countries  have not legislated a ban on the sale of flavoured tobacco products. In Uganda, cigarettes cannot be sold within 50m from a school premises.

 Taking action

The report noted that the aggressive marketing strategies by tobacco companies would contribute to a major epidemic of tobacco use in Africa. This would cause unprecedented health, economic, social and environmental consequences.

To tackle this, it recommends that urgent legislative and enforcement measures are taken to ban the marketing of tobacco products to children and protect their health.
Tobacco products should also be banned from being sold outside schools. Aside from Uganda, the remaining four countries have not yet prohibit the sale of tobacco products around schools.  As a result, there are a proliferation of tobacco sale outlets around schools.

Reducing accessibility will reduce sales and consumption among children. But  for this to happen, legislation must be adopted to prohibit the sale of tobacco products within a prescribed perimeter around schools.

In addition, these countries should adopt legislation that prohibits tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) including the display of tobacco products in retail outlets. All African countries signed up to the convention are obligated to legislate for a comprehensive ban on this.

In addition the manufacture, importation and sale of flavoured tobacco products should also be banned. Small packs and cigarettes sold separately should also be banned and ‘no sale to minors’ signage must be displayed in all retail outlets. This is one of the convention articles but legislative and enforcement measures need to be implemented.