Two anti-tobacco lobby groups are demanding the government take proactive measures to protect health policy from the vested interests of the tobacco industry. Picture: Michaela Rehle/Reuters
Cape Town - Two anti-tobacco lobby groups are demanding the government take proactive measures to protect health policy from the vested interests of the tobacco industry.

In a report on the state of tobacco industry interference in tobacco control in South Africa presented to the national health minister yesterday, the African Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research (Actim) and TAG, the Tobacco Alcohol and Gambling Advisory Advocacy and Action Group said: “In South Africa, tobacco kills approximately 44000 people a year.”

The Tobacco Industry Interference Index Report on South Africa forms part of the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index, which was launched internationally on Thursday.

According to the report: “The tobacco industry has historically employed a multitude of tactics to shape and influence tobacco control policy.

“The tobacco control measures are primarily led and implemented by the Ministry of Health. However, the tobacco industry interference continues to occur in many of the non-health government departments.”

“Various consultations and meetings take place between the tobacco industry and the National Treasury, Sars, SAPS, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, etc,” said the report.

Francois van der Merwe, CEO of the tobacco industry umbrella body Tobacco Institute of SA (Tisa), saw no problem with this and said: “Tisa engages with the SA Revenue Service through an established Sars/tobacco industry forum.

“Similar Sars forums are in place for other sectors as well,”

According to the report: “The government has not put in place a protocol or policy to record interactions with the tobacco industry.

”There are no formal procedures to disclose and record interactions (such as agenda, attendees register, minutes and outcomes) with the tobacco industry and its representatives, in accordance with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Article 5.3”.

However, Johnny Moloto, head of external affairs at British American Tobacco Southern Africa said, “Most legitimate businesses - particularly those in regulated industries - inevitably undertake some level of engagement and co-operation with the government.

“This can be necessary to promote both transparency and effective policy.”

“The results from the global index indicate that South Africa has an overall score of 74, which reflects on the seriousness of tobacco industry interference and how little protection South Africans have,” said the report.

“The tobacco industry continues to inject large philanthropic contributions into social programmes worldwide to create a positive public image under the guise of corporate social responsibility, while their products continue to kill over 50% of users, about eight million people annually,” said the report.

Philip Morris South Africa (PMSA) Managing Director, Marcelo Nico said: “Like any other company, we welcome the opportunity to present our views and do this in a transparent and open manner. This enables the government to obtain views from all affected stakeholders in order to make an informed decisions.”

Japan Tobacco International (JTI) who are also in the SA market, added: “Bribery and corruption present legal and reputational risks for any company. If any of our employees or business partners suspect an act of bribery or corruption, we strongly encourage them to speak up and raise their concerns.”

While the current Tobacco Control Act does ban contributions, the report said, “Charitable contributions are permitted provided they are not for the purpose of advertising. This is a loophole in the current Tobacco Control Act that will be removed, once new Tobacco Bill is introduced.”

Reacting to the report, Barry Buchman a retailer of  “e-liquids and the latest in electronic cigarette technology” said, “Unfortunately, in South Africa, cigarettes are still very cheap and that is one of the reasons the industry is still thriving.”

“Although we cannot state categorically that vaping is completely safe, it is certainly a far less harmful alternative to cigarettes,” claimed Buchman.

Speaking of the proposed anti-tobacco legislation headed to parliament, Buchman said, “The current proposed tobacco legislation should not lump vaping with tobacco but needs to consider the vape industry as a separate industry. We welcome regulation to help us to maintain our high manufacturing standards and to weed out unscrupulous suppliers.”

@MwangiGithahu

[email protected]

Cape Argus