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Kenya: smoke, and be your own boss

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Cigarette ads have tried to associate their brands with just about everything that prospective customers might find attractive, from sports and fitness, to independence, good looks, and sexual allure. Many have exploited popular dreams of wealth and quick ways to get it. In Pakistan, while one tobacco company offered gold ingots to competition winners, another played on increasingly popular aspirations to acquire wealth by running a business, with business loans being offered to promising young entrepreneurs (Tobacco Control2001;10:93–4).

Kenyan advertisement for BAT's Sportsman brand, offering ready made businesses to winners of a promotional draw.

Now, in Kenya, BAT has gone one better. Its Sportsman brand, infamous in East Africa for exploiting the national interest in athletics and other physical sports in which success is so cruelly denied to those who contract heart or lung disease from smoking (seeTobacco Control2000;9:129–30; and 2000;9:269–70), has offered entire, ready made businesses to lucky winners in a promotional draw. The top Grand Draw prize was a business worth one million shillings (nearly US$13 000), a substantial sum in Kenya. Other prizes were also ready made businesses: three worth Kshs 250 000 each, and six worth Kshs 50 000. A mini-draw offered another six businesses worth Kshs 50 000 each, and sets of business tools: six worth Kshs 25 000, and 15 worth Kshs 10 000.

BAT spokesmen often say how much the company benefits the local economy wherever it operates. One can all too easily imagine how they boasted about this one when talking privately to government officials. Meanwhile, the streets of Nairobi were no doubt alive with the sound of laughing and coughing, as the company's accountants made their way to the bank, and a swelling band of customers bought yet another pack, in the hope of striking lucky next time.