SA ‘needs to prioritise food over tobacco’ on World No Tobacco Day



Published May 31, 2023


South Africa is being called upon to prioritise food over tobacco as the world marks the annual World No Tobacco Day on May 31, 2023.

The World Health Organization’s global campaign for this year’s theme, “We need food, not tobacco,” is pushing for policies and strategies to enable tobacco-growing farmers to shift to sustainable food crops.

Although tobacco farming represents only a small fraction of agriculture in South Africa, the country is deeply affected by the health and socio-economic impacts of tobacco growing and use, according to leading health and community organisations united as Protect Our Next.

The group is hopeful that the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill, set to reduce tobacco use and improve lives and livelihoods, will become law in 2023.

Dr Sharon Nyatsanza of Protect Our Next member organisation, the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), said: “Tobacco harms our health, the health of farmers, our communities, and our planet.

‘We need food not tobacco.’ Picture: Mark Stebnicki /Pexels

She said: “The tobacco industry produces and markets products that damage the environment, kills millions of people prematurely, robs households of finances that could have been used for food and education, and imposes immense health-care costs on families, communities, and countries. It’s time for South Africa to implement stronger tobacco control policies to urgently reduce the impact of tobacco on our health and economy.”

According to the South Africa Global Adult Tobacco Survey (Gats) 2021, 29.4% of adult South Africans (age 15+) are current tobacco users, including 41.7% of men and 17.9% of women. Alarmingly, 21.5% of children aged 13 – 15 are current tobacco users (boys 24.3%; girls 19.0%) who smoke cigarettes and other tobacco products.

But smoking is a habit that affects nearly every aspect of your health, from your physical appearance to your internal organs and can lead to chronic health conditions. Smoking is a leading cause of preventable death worldwide and can significantly impact your medical aid coverage.

According to Lorraine Govender of the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa), the evidence-based tobacco control activities that are a part of the bill make sense from an economic and public health perspective.

“Tobacco control is a critical measure to reduce the economic burden of NCDs (non-communicable diseases) in South Africa, mostly cardiovascular disease, cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes. NCDs account for the deaths of over 50% of South Africans prematurely every year. It’s time for South Africa to strengthen our tobacco control legislation and pass the bill. It can only benefit our economy, our environment and our health.”

Dr Nyatsanza echoes the sentiments of her colleagues. “We need to protect our communities from the harms of tobacco. It’s simple, we need food, not tobacco!".

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