The big tobacco companies are running out of stomping grounds. Facing tough restrictions in Europe and North America, they’ve tapped into the African market. But it seems they may not be welcome there, either. The Nigerian federal government has launched a $40-billion lawsuit against three of the industry’s heavyweights, including British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International and Nigerianbased International Tobacco Company. Four of the nation’s 36 states filed similar suits last summer, but this is the first lawsuit brought against a tobacco company by an African country, according to lawyer Babatunde Irukera, who is also representing the government in a $6.5-billion lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. “The federal government accuses the tobacco companies of being engaged in a conspiracy to target young people and conceal the harmful nature of smoking for several years,” says Irukera.
The majority of the damages being sought in the suit, which was filed in July but was only made public last week, are “anticipatory damages” for future health care costs expected to result from tobacco-related illnesses. The government is also trying to forbid tobacco products from being sold near schools, cinemas and hospitals, and “any alluring and misleading image regarding tobacco-related products” from being advertised to minors.
About 18 per cent of Nigerian youth smoked as of 2001, compared to nine per cent of the country’s adults. But smoking may be the least of the impoverished country’s problems. Thanks to decades of neglect, critics say the public health care system barely functions. And despite a recent statement by Nigeria’s new minister of health that women and children would be a top priority, Africa’s most populous country has a long way to go. Its child mortality rate currently ranks 14th in the world due to a lack of proper nutrition and basic health care—not from smoking. M
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