Shady behaviour doesn’t sound like the sort of thing Big Tobacco would get caught up in at all, but Panorama (BBC1, 8.30pm, 30 November) suggested BAT did just that out in Uganda.
Grubby bribes, to be precise, to undermine everything from local tobacco rivals to a UN campaign aimed at reducing smoking-related deaths in the developing world.
Well, they can’t be having that over at BAT. It only sold 667 billion cigarettes last year, and limped to a £4.5bn profit, so you mustn’t blame it for exploiting the developing world in its hour of need.
Spoilsport reporter Richard Bilton did though, uncovering an email and paper trail that appeared to show BAT paid obliging Ugandan MPs to derail legislation that would restrict where people could smoke and how cigarettes could be displayed. “Not a bill BAT liked,” he said.
“Using bribery to profit at the cost of people’s lives,” sighed Dr Vera da Costa e Silva, from the WHO, as she looked over the paperwork. “They should be investigated and punished.”
At the start of the show, a BAT employee earnestly said: “We are committed to running our business in a responsible manner.” But by the end, BAT was less smug. Responding to the full allegations, a terse statement read: “The truth is that we do not and will not tolerate corruption, no matter where it takes place.”
The truth is, when you’re in the business of tobacco, and you have the sort of previous it has, it’s tough to convince consumers of your ethical credentials. Panorama won’t have made it any easier.