As part of the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health held in Cape Town this past week, the American Cancer Society (ACS) and Vital Strategies released the ‘Tobacco Atlas‘ – aimed at uncovering the harm done by the tobacco industry across the world.
Smoking has come into sharp focus this past week after department of health director-general, Precious Matsoso, confirmed that new proposals for changes to South Africa’s smoking laws will be presented before the end of March.
Among the proposals, a blanket ban on in-door public smoking is expected, as well as new distance limits when smoking near entrances, and a number of changes to cigarette advertising – including a proposal that cigarettes may no longer be publicly displayed by retailers.
According to the Tobacco Atlas, more than 42,100 South Africans are killed by tobacco-caused disease every year.
“Still, more than 55,000 children (10-14 years old) and 6,321,000 adults (15+ years old) continue to use tobacco each day (in South Africa),” the report found.
“Complacency in the face of the tobacco epidemic insulates the tobacco industry in South Africa and ensures that tobacco’s death toll will grow every year. Tobacco control advocates must reach out to other communities and resources to strengthen their efforts and create change,” the report found.
Despite the high levels of smokers in the country, the Atlas found that South Africa is below average when using smokeless tobacco (such as chewing tobacco).
“Even though fewer people use smokeless tobacco on average in South Africa than on average in medium-HDI countries, 2,581,300 people still currently use smokeless tobacco, making it a sign of an ongoing and dire public health threat.
Money to be made
While it remains to be seen whether the new regulations will make a major dent in the local tobacco industry, there is definitely still a market for the products internationally, with the combined revenues of the world’s 6 largest tobacco companies in 2016 at more than $346 Billion – 20% larger than the Gross National Income of South Africa.
The Atlas found that there were 12900 metric tons of tobacco produced in South Africa in 2014.
“However, tobacco growing is only a small fraction of agriculture in South Africa, with only less than 0.01% of agricultural land devoted to tobacco cultivation,” it reported.
More concerning is the cost that smoking places on the economy, the Atlas found.
“The economic cost of smoking in South Africa amounts to R59.12 billion rand. This includes direct costs related to healthcare expenditures and indirect costs related to lost productivity due to early mortality and morbidity.