One of the world’s biggest tobacco manufacturing companies, Philip Morris International, secured an approval to import 122 million ‘units’ of cigarettes into Nigeria from September 1, 2015, to March 31, 2016, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth International has said.
Akinbode Oluwafemi, Deputy Director, ERA/FoEN, said flooding the country with the “unlicensed, tax-not-paid” cigarettes was a deliberate violation of the National Tobacco Control Act.
“Through this illicit import, PMINTL Nigeria Limited will assault our public health with 122 million units of the identified cigarette brands within seven months,” Mr. Oluwafemi said in Lagos, Monday.
“There also seems a clear attempt to confuse Nigerians by PMI as they do not tell us if the units represent single packets or if several single packs in a row represent a single unit.”
PMINTL Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of American global cigarette and tobacco company, Philip Morris International, was registered in Nigeria on December 11, 2014.
Five months later, the company got the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) certificate for five PMI brands – Marlboro Gold, Marlboro, Chesterfield Blue, Chesterfield Mint Burst, and Bond Street Blue.
According to ERA/FoEN, Philip Morris International, through Philip Morris Manufacturing Senegal Sarl, applied for and got approval of the country’s Ministry of Industry and Mines, in July 2015, to benefit from the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme for the five cigarette brands.
In August this year, PMINTL Nigeria Limited applied for and secured approval from the Federal Ministry of Finance for the importation of the five cigarette brands into Nigeria.
“The speed of the entire transaction is clearly suspicious and may indicate some government officials may have been compromised to ensure that not only the PMINTL subsidiary is quickly registered, but also to undermine the Tobacco Control Act through the illicit imports,” said Mr. Oluwafemi.
The anti-tobacco activist’s claims came days after a BBC investigation uncovered evidence of bribery to government officials in East Africa by British American Tobacco, another leading tobacco company.
Mr. Oluwafemi said his organization would send a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari to demand a probe of PMINTL’s activities in Nigeria “with a view to bringing to justice any government official that compromised his office in the process of this illegal importation.”
The National Tobacco Control bill was signed into law last May.
Section 29(1) of the Act says: No person shall manufacture, import or distribute tobacco or tobacco products except the person has obtained license or is authorized in writing by the Minister.
The law stipulates a fine of “not less than N10 million and a term of imprisonment of not more than 10 years or both” among others for defaulters.
Efforts to reach the Federal Ministry of Finance were unsuccessful as e-mails sent to the address on the ministry’s official website failed to deliver.
But in a statement on Tuesday, Philip Morris International said it plays by the rules in all the over 180 countries it operates.
“In every market where we do business, we operate in accordance with national laws and regulations, including in Nigeria,” said Vera Nwanze, General Manager, PMINTL Nigeria Limited.
“PMINTL Nigeria Ltd is an affiliate company of PMI and has been an established legal entity for a year in compliance with all statutory requirements of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and meeting all legal requirements for product’s registration and importation including the payments of all relevant taxes to the concerned authorities.”
ERA/FoEN demanded the withdrawal from the market and destruction of all imported PMINTL cigarettes, as well as removal of tobacco products from trade liberalization policies.
”Our position is: If PMINTL Nigeria Limited is allowed to go scot-free with this illegal importation, it will send dangerous signals to the international community about Nigeria’s readiness to fulfill its obligations under the WHO FCTC,” said Mr. Oluwafemi.
“It will also send a wrong message that the Nigerian government is not ready to take on Big Tobacco corporations whenever they flout the nation’s laws.
“We demand the prosecution of PMINTL to stop this new onslaught on our nation and particularly our youth.”