In a joint statement released this morning, the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), Africa Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research (ATIM) at the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University said they believed that the changes in the act were critical to a national reduction of smoking to less than 10% of the population.
The amended act has been in the works for more than a year. Its amendment will have four main goals. It will force manufacturers to remove the branding on their cigarette packs and include graphic warnings on the front and back of the back. Secondly, it will ensure that the use of electronic cigarettes are regulated in the country. The third goal is to introduce a 100% smoke-free policy indoors, and lastly, it will ban all tobacco product advertising at point of sales.
“These are critical tools in reducing tobacco consumption. We are advocating for these mechanisms along with an increase in tobacco taxes. This is because tobacco control is inexpensive to implement but highly effective in reducing consumption. A R1 increase in the price of a packet of cigarettes will generate an extra R1billion in taxes for the country. This money could be used to fund tobacco control and health promotion. This in turn will contribute to the country’s ability to meet the sustainable development goals which we have committed to," NCAS Executive Director Savera Kalideen said in a statement.
The theme of World No-Tobacco Day this year – celebrated today – is “Tobacco- A threat to development.”
According to the NCAS, the massive health, environmental, social and economic costs associated with tobacco use undermine development, making this theme very relevant for South Africa with its high levels of poverty and inequality.
It stated that since democracy SA has made very significant progress in reducing tobacco consumption. The number of people who smoked had dropped by almost a half. In 1992, 32% of adults smoked cigarettes and this fell to 18% in 2012.
"However, in recent years’ progress on legislative change has slowed and smoking rates are falling much more slowly. This is largely because of the activities of the tobacco industry which have found ways to by-pass laws that have not been updated in over a decade.
"The country’s health warnings have remained unchanged since they were first introduced 21 years ago. The tobacco excise tax rate was set at 52% of the retail price of a pack in 2004 and has not changed since then," NCAS stated.
South Africa, once a global leader in tobacco control is increasingly falling behind. Indoor public places are 100% smoke-free in Burkina Faso, Chad and Seychelles, while SA still allows smoking in designated areas indoors. Taxes are higher in Kenya, Madagascar and Mauritius. Kenya has tackled the illicit trade in tobacco by strengthening its customs enforcement, while South Africa has not.
NCAS cited how other countries had progressed in tobacco health warnings, such as the large picture-based health warnings on tobacco products in Mauritius, Niger and the Seychelles, while South Africa had text-only warnings.
There also has been a complete ban on tobacco advertising in Ghana, Kenya, and Togo. South Africa still allows advertising in shops.
The lack of progress is not altogether surprising given British American Tobacco’s (BAT) alleged influence over state agencies.BAT allegedly spends R50 million a year in South Africa to bribe politicians, gangsters and government officials. It is accused of money laundering, corruption, spying and the use of state resources to target competitors- all in the name of fighting the illicit trade in tobacco. The industry has been accused of using its financial might to redirect the activities of the state for its own benefit.
The National Council Against Smoking warned that any such collusion with the tobacco industry was harmful both to our democracy and the country’s development.
The Council also calls on government to urgently take measures to reduce tobacco consumption to reduce its impact on development. Measures such as increasing tobacco excise taxes, strengthening customs control, making indoor public places completely smoke-free, and introducing plain packaging have been shown to work.