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“The law was actually drafted by us but the Government is to be congratulated on its wise actions”: British American Tobacco and public policy in Kenya
  1. Preeti Patel1,
  2. Jeff Collin2,
  3. Anna B Gilmore3
  1. 1Centre on Global Change and Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  2. 2Centre for International Health Policy, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  3. 3European Centre on Health of Societies in Transition, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr Preeti Patel
 Centre on Global Change and Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, UK; preeti.patel{at}


Background and objective: British American Tobacco (BAT) has historically enjoyed a monopoly position in Kenya. Analysis of recent tobacco control debates and a case study of BAT’s response to the emergence of competition in Kenya are used to explore the company’s ability to shape public policy and its treatment of tobacco farmers.

Design: Analysis of internal industry documents from BAT’s Guildford depository, other relevant data and interviews with key informants.

Results: BAT enjoys extensive high-level political connections in Kenya, including close relationships with successive Kenyan presidents. Such links seems to have been used to influence public policy. Health legislation has been diluted and delayed, and when a competitor emerged in the market, BAT used its contacts to have the government pass legislation drafted by BAT that compelled farmers to sell tobacco to BAT rather than to its competitor. BAT was already paying farmers less than any other African leaf-growing company, and the legislation entrenched poor pay and a quasi-feudal relationship. BAT’s public relation’s response to the threat of competition and the ministers’ public statements extolling the economic importance of tobacco growing suggest that BAT has manipulated tobacco farming as a political issue.

Conclusions: The extent of BAT’s influence over public policy is consistent with the observations that, despite ratifying the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, progress in implementing tobacco control measures in Kenya has been limited. The benefits of tobacco farming seem to be deliberately exaggerated, and an analysis of its true cost benefits is urgently needed. Tobacco farmers must be protected against BAT’s predatory practices and fully informed about its activities to help them have an informed role in policy debates. As image, particularly around the importance of tobacco farming, seems key to BAT’s ability to influence policy, the truth about its treatment of farmers must be publicised.

  • BAT, British American Tobacco
  • BATCo, British American Tobacco Company
  • BATK, British American Tobacco Kenya
  • FCTC, Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
  • MTCo, Mastermind Tobacco Kenya
  • MTK, Mastermind Tobacco Kenya
  • NGOs, non-governmental organisations
  • SSA, sub-Saharan Africa
  • TTCs, transnational tobacco corporations

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  • Funding: This work was supported by the National Cancer Institute, US National Institutes of Health, grant number R01 CA91021.

  • Conflict of interest: We are funded by the National Cancer Institute, US National Institutes of Health under grant number R01 CA91021 “Globalisation, the tobacco industry and policy influence”. JC and ABG have additionally received funding from the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK and Health Canada for tobacco document-related work, for which JC has also received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. ABG is a board member of ASH-UK and JC is a board member of the International Agency on Tobacco and Health (both unpaid).

  • The opinions are those of the authors alone.

  • PP had full access to all the data in the study and had final responsibility for the decision to submit the publication.

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