A damning report released on South African tobacco industry

Smoking

On Thursday 10 October 2019, a report on the state of tobacco industry interference in tobacco control in South Africa was presented to the Minister of Health. Although South Africa was a tobacco control leader in the 1990s and early 2000s, today the country is falling behind. There have been several amendments to tobacco control legislation over the years.

However, to better protect public health, certain areas of the legislation need to be strengthened. These include, amongst others, removing the display of tobacco products at the point of sale, making all indoor public places 100% smoke-free, controlling smoking in certain outdoor areas, banning vending machines that dispense tobacco products, including graphic health warnings on packaging and regulating electronic delivery systems.

The Tobacco Industry Interference Index Report on South Africa forms part of the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index, which is being launched internationally on 10 October 2019. This global survey, undertaken in 33 countries, reflects on how public health policies are protected from the industry’s subversive efforts, and how governments have pushed back against this influence. 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.

The Tobacco Industry Interference Index report was initiated by the South-East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) as a regional report, with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP) and is part of a global publication of the Global Centre for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC) at the School of Global Studies at Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand.

South African legislation

There have been significant advances in the battle against tobacco use in Africa. The South African government was active in the development of the WHO FCTC and subsequently ratified this international treaty in 2005.

Achievements include the passing of tobacco control legislation and several amendments to strengthen the legislation. The government of South Africa is required to take proactive measures to protect health policy from the vested interests of the tobacco industry and to submit periodic reports to the Convention Secretariat on the efforts undertaken to implement Article 5.3 of the FCTC.

Specific principles are outlined in the guidelines for the implementation of Article 5.3, to protect public health policies with respect to tobacco control from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.

  • Principle 1:

There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.

  • Principle 2:

Parties, when dealing with the tobacco industry or those working to further its interests, should be accountable and transparent.

  • Principle 3:

Parties should require the tobacco industry and those working to further its interests to operate and act in a manner that is accountable and transparent.

  • Principle 4:

Because their products are lethal, the tobacco industry should not be granted incentives to establish or run their businesses.

Tobacco tactics

The tobacco industry has historically employed a multitude of tactics to shape and influence tobacco control policy. The tobacco industry has used its economic power, lobbying and marketing machinery to influence government efforts to control and prevent tobacco use. However, 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 whilst their products continue to kill over 50% of users, about eight million people annually.

In South Africa, tobacco kills approximately 44 000 people a year.

Most industries have skeletons in their closets; the tobacco industry is no exception. In South Africa, and globally, the tobacco industry has a long history of behaving unethically and unlawfully. Over a period of decades, the tobacco industry has misled the public about the dangers of smoking and the addictiveness of their products. They have used illegal means to break into markets and to actively stimulate and support illicit trade. They have paid billions of dollars in fines for misdemeanours in the past.

The tobacco industry claims that it has changed; that it is not the cavalier industry of the 50s, 60s and 70s. While it may be true that it is more careful and considered, especially in high-income countries, that is certainly not the case in low and middle-income countries, including South Africa.

“It is precisely because we scored so poorly that steps must be taken to rectify the situation,” says Peter Ucko, CEO of TAG Tobacco Alcohol and Gambling Advisory Advocacy and Action Group. “The government, which is bound to comply with the FCTC and guidelines issued thereunder, must be encouraged to move quickly and dramatically to crush the interference by the tobacco industry in policy matters.”

“The government of South Africa is required to take proactive measures to protect public health policy from the vested interests of the tobacco industry,” adds Prof Lekan Ayo-Yusuf, head of African Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring (ATIM).“In South Africa, and globally, the tobacco industry has a long history of behaving unethically and unlawfully.”

For more information contact:

African Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research (ATIM), Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University

Contact: Prof Olalekan Ayo-Yusuf – Director:
Telephone: +27 (0) 12 521 3319

TAG Tobacco Alcohol and Gambling Advisory Advocacy and Action Group
Contact: Peter Ucko – CEO
Cell: +27 (0) 82 454 9889

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