Big Tobacco's troubles spread to Africa

A 14-year-old in the West African nation of Monrovia lights a cigarette.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Scott Jagow: Tobacco companies targeting children, we've heard those allegations before. But children in Africa? Four states in Nigeria have filed lawsuits against Philip Morris and British American Tobacco, saying those companies are recruiting kids to smoke. The lawsuits seek $38 billion in damages. The first hearing was today in Nigeria. Tosin Sulaiman is covering this for the Times of London. Tosin, what exactly are these states saying the companies did?

Tosin Sulaiman: They're saying that in order to target young people, they sponsor music concerts and sporting events and that they give out free cigarettes at some of these events because they want to get people addicted at a young age.

Jagow: And how do they intend to prove this?

Sulaiman: Well they have documents that were released as part of a settlement in the U.S. with the tobaccos industry. They have a document from Philip Morris USA which was dated March 9, 1981 and that says "today's teenager is tomorrow's potential regular customer and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while still in their teens." And there's another similar document, this one prepared for British American Tobacco that was dated July 25, 1991 and that talks about the habits of younger smokers in Nigeria. It says, "new smokers enter the market at a very early age, in many cases as young as 8 or 9."

Jagow: And what are the tobacco companies saying?

Sulaiman: Well British American Tobacco admits that it sponsors concerts but says that the organizers only allow those over 18 to attend and even though it gives away free cigarettes it says, we only give them away to people who are already smoking. But the lawyers in Nigeria say that's inconsistent with their marketing strategy because they need to attract new smokers in order to survive.

Jagow: Did I read that Philip Morris said it doesn't sell cigarettes in Nigeria?

Sulaiman: Yes it says Philip Morris International and its affiliates do not currently sell cigarettes in Nigeria. But again, lawyers are saying that they do, their brands are available for sale in Nigeria and they're very popular.

Jagow: OK Tosin, thanks so much.

Sulaiman: Thank you.

Jagow: Tosin Sulaiman is a reporter for the Times of London.

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