Bannatyne Takes On Big Tobacco, BBC2

Did we like it?
He may be portrayed as the curmudgeonly one on Dragon’s Den, but we’ve always liked Duncan Bannatyne’s straight-talking which he brought, to good effect, to this documentary on the way British American Tobacco is marketing cigarettes to children in Africa.

What was good about it?

• Bannatyne showed real tenacity in exploring the subject,. A former smoker, he now hates the habit so much that his six children won’t get their trust funds if they take up the weed. And that passion radiated through a compelling programme.
• The scenes of cowardly BAT bigwigs and investors scurrying away from Bannatyne’s questions at their annual general meeting. “Are you proud of how you market your product?” he asked them. Replies were minimal as they got away from him, off home to count their profits and forget the consequences. The only audible response? “”Well, if they’re stupid enough to smoke… “
• The documentary told simple tales – how cigarette addiction is almost omnipotent in Mauritius where smoking is portrayed as the right thing to do, the Nigerian government’s court case against the tobacco industry, seeking to recover the $9billion it has spent on treating the victims, and the infection of Malawi with tobacco advertising to persuade the 90% of the population to take up the habit (It helps you pass exams, one boy had been assured).
• While BAT in London disapproves of the sale of single cigarettes (the only way poor kids can afford the occasional puff), Bannatyne showed that its African offshoots go out of their way to promote the singles trade. Bannatyne was left to reflect that tobacco would continue to kill more Africans malaria or Aids.

What was bad about it?
• The effects will probably be minimal and there was an anti-climactic feel to the documentary. The man from BAT who agreed to be interviewed promised to look into this, review that, reiterate the other but we’re sure the growth of smoking in Africa will go on unabated. The man, a nervous, red-faced chap, said: “I think your criticism helps all companies like ourselves because we listen to those criticisms and we will be looking at these issues.” Bannatyne did well not to laugh in his face.

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