Damning reports strengthen push for new smoking and cigarette laws in South Africa

Anti-tobacco and health groups have called on the government to introduce the long-awaited Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill – or to at least process the bill to Cabinet by the end of 2021.

This follows recent reports by a tobacco watchdog and the BBC implicating multinational tobacco group British American Tobacco (BAT) in using ‘shady tactics’ to promote cigarette use in South Africa.

The Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill is expected to regulate the use, marketing, and sales of e-cigarettes or vapes in South Africa. These products are currently operating in a legislative vacuum.

Plans are also in place to introduce restrictions on the smoking of cigarettes in public places. Current smoking laws ban smoking in public places but allow for designated smoking areas in bars, taverns and restaurants provided that they do not take up more than 25% of the venue. Lawmakers want to change this to a 100% prohibition of smoking in public areas.

About one in five people smoke cigarettes, according to the South Africa Demographic and Health Survey.

“Every year, tobacco-related diseases kill about 42,100 people in South Africa. These diseases cost the South African economy R42 billion each year.

“This is money which government could rather use for the socio-economic development of the nation, including poverty eradication initiatives, supporting education initiatives, and building township and rural economies, amongst others,” said Zanele Mthembu, Public Health Policy and Development Consultant.

Lorraine Govender, national manager of Health Promotion for the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), said tobacco is responsible for over 16 types of cancers.

“The devastating effects of cancer in South Africa is picking up speed. The rate of death from cancer among men and women and all racial groups and for many types of cancers, including lung cancer, continues to rise.”

The groups have also called for a government investigation into BAT.

“It’s clear that BAT has resorted to desperate measures to keep selling their products,” says Professor Pamela Naidoo,  chief executive of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA).

“It also seems that former SARS official Johann van Loggerenberg certainly had valid points to make when he drew attention to this very issue and the extent of the deceitfulness of the tobacco industry. The more we expose what is actually going on and has gone on in the past, the more we can protect our people, and especially our youth.”

BAT responds 

BAT rejected the BBC allegations but told the broadcaster that paying sources to gather information about criminal behaviour was not unlawful.

“BAT emphatically rejects the mischaracterisation of its anti-illicit trade activity by the BBC and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ). Allegations of this nature are not new and have been covered extensively in various news media over several years,” it said

BAT said it has long been committed to fighting the global criminal trade in illicit tobacco. This includes assisting national law enforcement agencies in providing support and, in the past, intelligence on suspected illegal operators.

“These efforts in combating illicit trade have been aimed at helping law enforcement agencies in the fight against the criminal trade in tobacco products with the aim of countering the seriously detrimental effects that illicit trade has on society.

“The allegations being made regarding BAT’s anti-illicit trade activities have been covered extensively in various news media over several years.”

Law won’t work as intended, says tobacco company

The draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill will not effectively reduce cigarette sales or smoking-related harm in the country, says tobacco company Philip Morris South Africa.

“On one side of the debate are those who would see less harmful nicotine products including e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products and snus, regulated the same as the most harmful products, namely cigarettes,” said Rishaad Hajee, head of corporate communications at Philip Morris South Africa.

“This approach doesn’t consider the growing body of scientific evidence which shows that not all nicotine-containing products are the same and turns a blind eye to the principle of tobacco harm reduction.”

Hajee said that between 2015 and 2019, the total cigarette sales in Japan dropped by 34%, associated with the introduction of heated tobacco products.

“South Africa can achieve similar success if it implements regulatory frameworks that recognise that not all tobacco products are the same,” he said.

“Sensible regulation is key to striking the right balance. This means adopting a regulation that recognises the role of these alternatives in helping those adults who would otherwise continue to smoke to move away from cigarettes while protecting youth and non-smokers.”

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Damning reports strengthen push for new smoking and cigarette laws in South Africa