J&J, the South African consumer product firm, has announced it is close to securing a license from the South African government to export its popular liquid J. & J. shot across the African continent, even though the new product is a tobacco variant.
The company announced the move in a briefing this week with multiple business and government leaders and said it has been in talks with the South African Department of Health for “well over a year.”
The shot is also a growth area for J&J in Europe and Asia and the world’s second-biggest tobacco company, which did not grant reporters interviews.
The South African government has been critical of tobacco companies for years and J&J’s move would be the first move by a domestic firm to make an announcement amid that public concern.
Nigel Cooper, J&J’s director of corporate affairs, wrote in a blog post that the company had first contacted government representatives about the shot in 2015. This move comes after the 2016 passing of the Combating of Realistic Targets Act, which makes it illegal for tobacco firms to sell tobacco products in African countries unless they have a license from the government or the World Health Organization.
“It was in a number of meetings with the Department of Health that the urgency of our need to start commercial production was identified as a top priority,” Cooper wrote.
The company’s goal is to produce 60 million shot glasses to supply its international distributors. Cooper said production would be completed within a year once licenses for the company have been acquired.
It would be the first time since the 1970s that an African domestic firm had access to the export markets of the continent. In the past several years, multi-nationals such as BAT and Philip Morris have sold their local subsidiaries and licensed their brands, leaving behind a lot of local jobs in countries like Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda.
“In the current global climate where real jobs are needed across the African continent to build the future we need suppliers that can make up that lost manufacturing capacity,” Cooper wrote.
But the company’s announcement — unlike the last time it tried to export its product — is not without concerns.
According to Cooper, products that have saturated “international markets” need “more data and scientific evidence” before they are sold and certified for consumption in Africa. The product NPA-Zuma/STAFF tested was made with beeswax, which is harder to export because that ingredient is scarce.
“As J&J’s World Health Organization certified anti-tobacco brand, our intent is to use this priority to make as much product as possible, with as much Nigerian adult demand as possible,” Cooper wrote.
The company plans to expand the research and development efforts, as well as start using its own plant-based fuel in the finished shot.
J&J’s move toward export suggests the smoking of African cigars or pot bellies may follow. But the country’s environmental agenda is also rising in importance, and last year the regulatory board stopped the importation of tobacco product that did not meet tough new requirements that included a ban on super glues.
For now, it will be up to South African consumers to decide whether the liquid shooters are a step towards a future smoked product — or a terrible idea.