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25th May 2017
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13th June 2017

No Tobacco Day

The department of health should update tobacco use laws so that it can effectively reduce the smoking rates in the country. Logo: National Council Against Smoking.

Tobacco poses a major threat to development in South Africa

South Africa needs to tighten its laws to curb the negative impact that using tobacco has on the country’s economic growth

Thabo Mohlala

The National Council Against Smoking has called for the strengthening of relevant laws to ensure the fight against smoking is intensified. Speaking at the World No-Tobacco Day held in Rosebank, Savera Kalideen, executive director of the council, said the huge health, environmental, social and economic costs associated with tobacco use severely hamper the capacity of governments to develop their countries.

She said this year’s theme: “Tobacco — A threat to development” is not only appropriate for South Africa, given the increasing levels of poverty and inequality, but also affords it an opportunity to review progress made in reducing tobacco use. Kalideen said the tobacco industry makes huge profits “as smokers spend millions buying a ‘loose’ (single cigarette), a pack or a carton of cigarettes each day”.  But in addition, she added, the costs are devastating for the individual families and society. “Individuals and families have to pay for treatment and transport for smokers who are ill while society pays for [their] healthcare, disability grants, lower industrial productivity, environmental pollution and fires,” said Kalideen.

Exploiting existing legal gaps

She said tobacco use has a direct link to poverty. “Apart from causing disease, the health of sick smokers worsens faster if they have inadequate nutrition, housing and healthcare. Deaths from tobacco use are thus higher among the poor than the wealthy.” Kalideen said while the department of health has made “significant progress” in curbing tobacco use, the prevalent use of tobacco products such as hookahs and e-cigarettes — particularly among the youth — points to gaps in tobacco-related legislation. She said these products are readily available in stores across the country, adding that the demand for their use is fuelled by the perception that they are less harmful than ordinary cigarettes.

Introducing tougher legislation

Speaking on behalf of the department of health, Lorato Mahura said it is a myth that hookahs and e-cigarette gadgets have less negative health impact. She said in the end they all contain nicotine, the main ingredient in cigarettes that causes addiction. She conceded that there are gaps in the current tobacco use laws, saying that the main reason has to do with the intricate nature of the law-making processes that have to be passed through Parliament. “Unfortunately, this takes some time, but we are in the process of introducing tougher measures to close the gaps,” she said.

Corrupt tobacco industry

Kalideen took a swipe at British American Tobacco, accusing it of being behind the lack of progress in curbing tobacco use in the country because of its “alleged influence over state agencies”. She said the cigarette giant “has found ways to by-pass laws that have not been updated in over a decade. Kalideen added that the company allegedly spends R50-million a year in the country to bribe politicians, gangsters and government officials. In addition, said Kalideen, the company is also accused of money-laundering, corruption, spying and using of state resources to target competitors under the guise of fighting the illicit trade in tobacco.

New and effective measures

The council proposed some measures that government should “urgently take” to reduce tobacco consumption. These include increasing tobacco excise taxes, strengthening customs control, making indoor public places completely smoke-free and introducing plain packaging.

Some statistics about South Africa’s smoking trends

  • 31% of males smoke, compared to 8.7% of females;
  • This means 19% of adult South Africans smoke, and that each of them smokes an average of nine cigarettes per day; and
  • 4 million non-smokers are exposed to second-hand smoke at home and of these, 2.2 million are children.

Smokers in terms of race

  • Coloureds lead with 37% smokers;
  • 2% of whites smoke;
  • Indians account for 24.7% smokers; and
  • 1% of blacks smoke.

The threat of tobacco use to development in South Africa

  • 3 million smokers live in households that receive a R360 monthly grant for child support;
  • On average, R300 is spent on cigarettes by each smoker monthly;
  • R690-million is the estimated amount of what smokers in households receiving child grants spend on cigarettes monthly; and
  • 3-billion is the estimated annual spend on cigarettes in these households, instead of recipients spending their grant money on child welfare.



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