Why Kenyan Tobacco Manufacturers smile all the way to the bank
According to a report titled Exposing the tactics, between 2003 and 2008, cigarette production in Kenya rose 156 per cent to 12 billion sticks from 4.8 billion in 2003. Some estimates place the figure in the upwards of 15 billion sticks. This means that the number of smokers in the country has risen rather declined.
This is despite the punitive regulatory measures in place to tame smoking. Tobacco advertising is banned nor can the manufacturers participate in Community Social responsibility events. Taxes have almost trebled retail prices yet more people light up. And the manufacturers are laughing all the way to the bank. Why? According to the report cited above, the cigarette manufacturers intimidate the government into not passing punitive legislation including discouraging tobacco farming.
However, their false reports have emboldened the manufacturers and smokers alike. They shrug off such reports as alarmist. The government is left helpless as it cannot act on fake reports. The result; profits among the tobacco manufacturers have increased. Why? They don’t advertise nor do they give back to society in the form of CSR. Consumption of cigarettes too is growing. All the money goes to line up the pockets of the manufacturers. Its campaign has produced the unintended results.
Tobacco in Kenya is grown by an estimated 40,000 small scale farmers on an estimated 20,000 hectares of land. The farmers produce an estimated 25,000 tones (25 million Kilos) a year of tobacco leaf worth US$50 million at the farm gate price. The average yield per hectare is estimated at 1250 Kilograms.
The entire crop is sold to three local manufacturers led by BAT Kenya who churn out an estimated 15 billion cigarette sticks a year. Tobacco leaf sales at US$2.00 per kilo. This means that the 40,000 farmers produce crop worth US$50 million. At an average output of 1250Kilograms per hectare farmers earn an estimated US$2500 per hectare per year. At this level of earnings, tobacco compares favourably with tea, Kenya’s leading cash crop.
Estimates show that tobacco in 2011 contributed US$124million to the exchequer in taxes. The same estimates also show that the tobacco industry contributes an estimated 7 per cent of the GDP per year. The rates have increased since then, some reports indicate. Going by these figures, one would expect that the industry is treated with some respect and dignity.
That was the ideal situation before the birth of anti-tobacco lobbyists, led by the World Health organization, WHO. The lobbyists’ main agenda is the herculean task of eliminating tobacco use and farming.
The aim is to persuade smokers to kick the habit and farmers to abandon tobacco farming. It is the strategy that is wrong for it has attracted quarks and charlatans all chasing the money involved. Many of the characters are just lining their pockets. And all they have to show for it are fake research results and rhetoric. The lobby protests that tobacco is a killer crop-one that condemns farmers to poverty, poor health and starvation.
On this score that the anti-tobacco lobbies shot itself on the foot. Fake researchers thoughtlessly churn out fake reports, which convince no-one. Their alleged research findings are false designed to intimidate governments and smokers alike. Though couched in scientific jargon because the researches are carried by university Lecturers, the findings are not convincing- not even to laymen.
Take one study conducted by an outfit called Tobacco to Bamboo based in Maseno University, Kenya and published by the African Journal of Agricultural Research, in 2009. It appears that the results were decided before the research was carried out. In fact the result and the data analyzed tell two different stories. The data was not allowed to dictate the findings. Instead the findings were imposed on the data leading to the question: which came first, the findings or data collection.
The findings are an insult to our intelligence. The alleged study’s design, sampling size and methodology are suspect. Although the sample size comprised of 440 households, the population of non-tobacco farming households was higher than the tobacco farmer’s households by 30. This, it seems, was to ensure that the result was skewed towards anti-tobacco growing.
While the study claims that tobacco farmers are poor, analyses in the same report paint the opposite picture. Tobacco farmers appear as relatively wealthy: they are polygamous; their marriages are relatively stable. Divorce rate is 0.5 per cent compared to divorce rate among non-tobacco farmers (0.9%). Marriage in tobacco growing farms is 91.8 per cent compared to non-tobacco farming households where the rate is 82.9 per cent.
These findings were backed a similar study carried by the Tobacco Research Foundation of Tanzania. The study, carried out by government officials, found that Tobacco farmer are well- off because the crop is bought by Kenyan companies that pay them well. The report says that, in focused groups discussions, women were full of praise for tobacco growing which enabled their “men to marry other wives because the can support them. It also enabled them to send their children to schools in Kenya.” The Tanzania farmers, the report says, were introduced to Tobacco farming by their “Cousins in Kenya.” It is noteworthy that these Kenyan cousins are the same people the Kenyan study alleges are poor.
The Kenyan study also bucks the myth that tobacco farmers die early owing to health complications arising from “tobacco contamination.” The study shows that, the rate of widowed households among tobacco farmers is 2.9% while it was 12.7 per cent among the non-tobacco farmers. In fact, this result even calls to question the allegation that smokers and tobacco farmers die prematurely due to tobacco contamination. In fact no health data was collected and collated.
The study also say that non tobacco farmers are dependents that live on handouts christened remittances from relatives working in urban areas. The study also found that, Five per cent of the tobacco farming households has access to bank loans while none in the non-tobacco farming households enjoy such privilege.
This is just a sample of the kind of nonsense the anti-tobacco lobby produces. For instance another “study” says that tobacco related illnesses are a greatest killer in Kenya yet the Ministry of health statistics shows that Malaria is the leading Killer in Kenya.
While one report complains that tobacco is grown at the expense of food crops, the latest edition of a document called Tobacco industry interference published with input from the government says that Tobacco is grown simultaneously with other crops. The acreage under Tobacco represents an average of 2% of a farmers’ field while maize occupies 47%; sugarcane 16%, coffee 4% and the rest 31%. Kibwage et al, who authored the report in African Journal of Agricultural Research, also found that tobacco farmers allocate 50 per cent of their holding to food crops compared to 40 per cent in the non-tobacco growing households.
Smoking is a function of a consumer’s financial well-being. In the 1990s when the Kenyan economy was in doldrums, cigarette manufacture and consumption shrunk from 8.5 billion sticks in 1997 to 4.8 billion sticks in 2003. Kenya’s economy turned round from 2003 onwards and cigarette manufacturing and consumption rose 156 per cent.
The conclusion: for as long as consumers have money in their pockets, smoking will continue. Therefore the anti-smoking lobby must come up with honest and persuasive reasons to quit smoking. Their lacklustre campaigns endanger the lives of Kenyans.