Outdated tobacco law threatens progress towards smoke-free South Africa, says Philip Morris
The bill prevents the access of South African smokers to scientifically substantiated products which are an alternative to smoking cigarettes.
The proposed Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill approved by Cabinet last year is a lost opportunity to make adult smokers aware of smoke-free alternatives, says Philip Morris South Africa (PMSA).
“The Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill which has been on the agenda since 2018, if passed in its current form, misses a huge opportunity to encourage all adult South Africans who would otherwise continue smoking to switch to smoke-free alternatives,” says Branislav Bibic, Managing Director at Philip Morris South Africa.
He stresses that it also undermines the efforts of adult smokers who have switched to better alternatives, such as heated tobacco products and e-cigarettes as an alternative to continued smoking.
“While we support the government’s intentions to combat tobacco prevalence and youth uptake in South Africa, we would welcome a discussion with regulators on how to best facilitate suitable access to these products within a reasonable regulatory framework at this time,” he adds. “We need the right regulatory framework, encouragement, support from civil society, and the full embrace of science before any decisions are made.”
He explains that the proposed Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill should provide the country with an opportunity to make this a possibility by differentiating the way in which scientifically substantiated products that don’t burn tobacco are regulated differently compared to cigarettes.
“By creating differentiated taxes and regulation of heated tobacco products and e-cigarettes, this would be a step towards encouraging those who would otherwise continue smoking to change to less harmful alternatives,” he says.
“The bill in its current form prevents the access of South African smokers to scientifically substantiated products which are an alternative to smoking cigarettes,” Bibic adds. “While scientifically substantiated smoke-free products are not risk-free and they contain nicotine, which is addictive, they are a much better choice than continued smoking.”
South Africa is currently ranked among the top countries in the world in terms of smoking prevalence. Despite a five-month cigarette ban during lockdown and current stringent smoking regulations, the country remains at ranking 23 among a 147 countries with the highest smoking rates in the world.
According to the World Population Review (2022), South Africa’s total smoking rate in the country is at 31.4% with 46.8% of smokers being male and 16% being female. Bibic says that more needs to be done between government leadership and industry initiatives to accelerate efforts to reduce smoking rates.
“It would be ideal for the world’s one billion smokers to quit altogether, but the indicators so far show that this is unrealistic; therefore, the most pragmatic approach would be to offer less harmful products that eliminate combustion such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products and regulate these products differently,” he adds. “In addition to existing efforts to stop people from starting smoking and to help them quit, offering smoke-free alternatives to adults who choose to continue smoking can also have a positive impact on public health.”
In this context, he says, we need to look to the authorities, policymakers, and public health groups to act accordingly. “Consultation with other stakeholders, medical professionals and industry bodies is key so that policymakers can ensure that they are hearing all voices in the regulatory process.
“Misinformation is threatening public health opportunities and hampering consumer rights therefore there is a need to realise that it is unethical to withhold access to accurate information about cigarette alternatives that can reduce the burden of smoking on society,” he adds. “We have a chance to make meaningful strides to impact public health.”
“Addressing misinformation with facts and science is a collective responsibility to achieve a smoke-free future faster, while misinformation is a persisting threat with real-world consequences for people who smoke in this country,” Bibic says. “Regulation and support for alternatives to smoking has shown to be successful in other countries like Japan, Sweden and Switzerland.”
Bibic says that by providing consumers with science-based information about better alternatives, we can accelerate the decline in smoking rates, helping to end the use of cigarettes once and for all.