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Ugandan Official, Trying to Establish Anti-Smoking Laws, Accuses Tobacco Company of Blackmail

An anti-smoking demonstration in UgandaOne of Britain’s biggest companies has been accused of “blackmail” by a Ugandan member of parliament spearheading tough new anti-smoking laws in his country.

British American Tobacco, in conjunction with other leading tobacco companies, is using its considerable financial clout to oppose Dr. Chris Baryomunsi’s private member’s bill aimed at curbing smoking in a country where cigarettes kill 13,500 people a year. Anti-tobacco campaigners see the bill as a watershed moment with significant consequences for cigarette companies.

Enó Isong, associate director of international communications at Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said European tobacco companies could not countenance a decrease in smoking rates in Africa. “Most Western countries have put in place policies to blunt the tobacco industry,” he said. “It is very clear that the tobacco industry is shifting its market to Africa – a young market where they can bully their way around.”

In a letter to Baryomunsi, BAT Uganda confirmed that it will no longer do business with the 709 farmers in his Kihihi constituency that it normally buys from because his bill – and a related plan to raise tobacco taxes – has rendered the arrangement “increasingly less economically viable.”

BAT, which has a stock market valuation of $65 billion, buys tobacco from 18,000 farmers in Uganda, and Baryomunsi said he was under no illusions about why the company had targeted the farmers in his district first. “Although they said it was a business decision, the reason was merely blackmail,” Baryomunsi said. “They thought that the farmers would rise against me and disorganize me politically, but I told them I was not moved. I actually assured them that what mattered to me was not the number of years I spend in parliament but what I do when in parliament. I assured them that no amount of blackmail and intimidation would shake me.”

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