BAT subsidiary lobbies Pakistan to allow export of cigarettes to Sudan

Estimated read time 4 min read

A subsidiary of British American Tobacco is lobbying the government of Pakistan to allow it to export 10-packs of cigarettes to war-torn Sudan, prompting criticism from a smoking campaign group.

Pakistan is among more than 80 countries that do not permit the sale or manufacture of 10-packs of cigarettes, which the World Health Organization has said make smoking more affordable for children.

But BAT’s subsidiary, Pakistan Tobacco Company (PTC), has written to the government’s health ministry to lobby for a change in the law that would allow it to make smaller packs there, for export to Sudan and other countries where they are not prohibited.

In a leaked letter seen by the Guardian, PTC said it had “received a new export order to manufacture for Sudan, which includes packs of 10 cigarettes”.

PTC said that Sudan, which is in the grip of a civil war that is estimated to have claimed as many as 150,000 lives, does not ban the sale of 10-packs.

The company told the Islamabad government that changing the law would “benefit Pakistan” because the order was worth $20.5m and could be repeated, bringing valuable dollar currency reserves into Pakistan.

It asked for the law to be “amended” to allow it to manufacture smaller cigarette packets for export.

Mark Hurley, vice-president at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), said smaller packs were particularly likely to appeal to under-18s.

“It is beyond shameful that British American Tobacco is seeking to alter the law in Pakistan so that it can flood an African country in crisis with cheap cigarettes,” he said.

He said more than 80 countries around the world had enacted laws requiring a minimum of 20 cigarettes a pack “because evidence shows these cheap packs are used to target kids and vulnerable populations”.

“Exploiting not only this knowledge but a country facing a humanitarian crisis is the behaviour of a company that will truly stop at nothing to sell and addict more people to cigarettes.”

More than 180 countries, including Pakistan and Sudan, are signatories to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which obliges them to prohibit the sale of cigarettes individually or in small packets which increase the affordability of such products to minors.

While the FCTC does not define what constitutes a small pack, at least 82 countries have enacted laws requiring a minimum of 20 sticks a pack.

London-based BAT, which makes brands including Lucky Strike and Rothmans, said the export order was intended to replace domestic manufacturing by its Sudanese subsidiary, Blue Nile Cigarette Company (BNCC).

The subsidiary’s factory is based in Madani, which has been the scene of heavy fighting in Sudan’s bloody civil war.

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A BAT spokesperson said: “To ensure the continuity of products to meet consumer demands in Sudan, which predominantly operates in cigarette packs of 10, Pakistan was given the export order to supply to BNCC.

“The clearance for the export order of cigarette packs of 10 from Pakistan to Sudan is pending regulatory approval by the government of Pakistan. The clearance complies with all local laws and regulations in Sudan.

“For any products manufactured by BAT, we abide by strict marketing principles to prevent marketing and sales to underage [consumers]. These measures include prominent 18+ age warnings on packaging as well as our communications.”

A spokesperson for the Pakistan government declined to comment.

In 2017, a Guardian investigation uncovered how BAT promoted sales of its cigarettes in some of the most fragile, war-torn and unstable countries of Africa and the Middle East.

At the time, a spokesperson said: “We take our commitment to the responsible marketing of our products very seriously.

“We have strict, company-wide marketing principles in place to ensure that our products are marketed responsibly, in addition to adhering to all relevant laws and regulations in the 200 markets where we operate.”


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