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Revealed: Big tobacco and the corruption of the TPD

A Panorama report discloses the lengths to which big tobacco will go to influence and corrupt legislation.

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The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) held huge sway during the drafting of proposals for the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) and the ecig-related Article 20. Many allegations of corrupt science blighted its passage into law. Vapers may ask themselves, in light of a recent Panorama investigation, if dishonesty went to a financial and drafting level.

The report focussed on allegations of crooked practises being operated by British American Tobacco (BAT). With knowledge of the history of tobacco company practise it isn’t difficult to extrapolate the detailed action across the rest of the industry.

Britain’s fifth largest company, earning £4.5 billion a year in profit, stands accused of bribery, commercial malpractice and illegal influence. Documents in the hands of journalists detail the illegal payment of $20,000 to a Ugandan member of parliament in order to see a confidential report and, remarkably, alter it.

I was a commercial hitman,” said Paul Hopkins. Hopkins moved on from a military career to become BAT’s security and anti-smuggling operations manager in Africa. Having fallen out with his previous employers, the whistle-blower has released a mass of documents, emails and recorded meetings painting the tobacco firm in an exceptionally poor light. “My job was to ensure the competition didn’t get a breathing space.”

Godefroid Kamwenubusa was one of the tools BAT used. The man sat on WHO’s FCTC and received $3,000 during the formation of legislation. Rwandan FCTC representative Bonaventure Nzeyimana pocketed $20,000 while Comoros Islands’ Chaibou Bedja Abdou trousered another $3,000. The suspicion has to be that the documented illegal activity of these three FCTC individuals is just the tip of the iceberg. Given the influence Big Tobacco wants to exert in order to pervert the vape market in its favour it is almost impossible to believe that they have not done something similar with Article 20’s preposterous demands for non-drip containers, tiny atomisers and 10ml limits to juice bottles.

BAT said that any company could fall victim to an employee acting inappropriately. "We are rightly proud that any alleged breach of our very high expectations of transparency and honesty is swiftly investigated. Any proven transgression will lead to appropriate disciplinary action. Our accusers in this programme left us in acrimonious circumstances and have a vendetta against us, clearly demonstrated by the false picture they present of how we do business."

But the serial activity is documented – and proof exists that BAT had full knowledge of its practise. Gary Fagan, BAT’s area director for East and Central Africa is caught acknowledging it on tape. So too is Naushad Ramoly, a BAT lawyer. It is illegal for British firms to pay bribes ANYWHERE in the world and can be prosecuted.

But whistleblower Hopkins isn’t the only former BAT employee who knows they paid bribes. In Uganda, former BAT lobbyist Soloman Muyita is suing BAT for wrongful dismissal. “Managers told him to give cash to 50 people” – and he submitted documents to court to support his position, indicating they did make the payments. They paid MPs to undermine a proposed anti-tobacco law. Where they could smoke, how they could be marketed, how displayed in shops. BAT paid to change legislation.

Further emails demonstrated that the Tobacco Control Bill (TCB) details came to them and how much more they demanded. The $3000 to FCTC Kamwenubusa also had him promise to supply the draft TCB and that he would ensure amendments from BAT go into it before the President signed it.

Flying into his native French instead of the perfect grasp of English he previously displayed: “I don’t care about these emails. Emails, I don’t trust them. I don’t think they are official.” He might not but we do.

All suggestions of bribes paid by European companies automatically trigger an enquiry by the American Department of Justice. BAT face huge fines if found guilty. And if they are found guilty and it implicates Article 20 then maybe there’s a thread of hope for it being scrapped and redrafted.

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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