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Greedy tobacco industry is at it again

It’s lying to the poor by hiding the harmful effects of its products and making them believe that they in fact sustain jobs. All this in a bid to push aside the proposed legislation and advance its own interests, writes Aaron Motsoaledi.

THE EXPLOITATION of poverty and unemployment for reaction- ary reasons, which is a strategy that is being employed by some in

the tobacco industry, is not new. At the height of apartheid repression, when progressive forces called for eco- nomic sanctions against the racist regime, those who wanted the status quo to remain argued that sanctions would increase the rate of unemployment and thus harm the poor more because levels of poverty would rapidly increase.

Of course this was just a tactic to pro- long the system of apartheid. The plain truth is that the argument was being made by those who were not honest enough to admit that they supported apartheid and wanted the system to remain because it benefited them.

It is déjà vu.

The greedy tobacco industry is at it again. It is again spreading lies among the popu- lation in its opposition to the proposed amendments to the legislation that aims to impose stricter conditions designed to limit the harmful effects of tobacco.

It is in overdrive, making all sorts of arguments with the aim of ensuring that its products continue to have devastating effects on the population.

In the early days of the first tobacco laws, introduced by then health minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the tobacco industry threatened that if the law was passed there would be massive job losses, and soccer teams that received sponsor- ships from the industry would collapse. It even approached then president Nelson Mandela, telling him that Dlamini Zuma’s planned legislation would collapse the economy. None of the threats materialised.

According to a recent report in Business Day, AgriSA, the Food and Allied Workers Union, and the South Africa Spaza and Tuckshop Association said the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Bill would devastate agriculture and town- ship businesses.

Business Day quoted a joint statement issued by the organisations: “The bill would put thousands of law-abiding spaza shop owners and hawkers out of business and drive 80% of tobacco sales into the hands of criminals. The bill would end the legal production of cigarettes in South Africa, leading to an estimated 7 000 job losses and the shutdown of hundreds of farms.”

While there is no doubt that jobs are important, it is silly to juxtapose jobs and the health of the people, because both are needed. In fact, the argument is being made to us only because we are an African country. They couldn’t do that in Europe.

The tobacco companies are deliber- ately exploiting the legitimate issue of unemployment to advance their business interests. They are using the poor to pur- sue their greed and using information that is devoid of fact to propagate their agenda.

As the government, we are acutely aware that certain legislation, even if it means well, can have a negative socio-eco- nomic impact. For this reason, the govern- ment has developed the Social Economic ImpactAssessmentStudy,whichevaluates the impact of any new legislation. We have subjected the proposed amendments to this assessment study, and the amend- ments were given the green light.

Another falsehood that has been cre- ated by the tobacco industry is that the government is doing nothing to fight the illicit tobacco trade.

While the South Africa Revenue Ser- vice has reportedly floundered with regard to the illicit tobacco trade, there is clear evidence that the government at the high- est level is committed to combating the illicit trade in tobacco.

We are not the only country that has tobacco legislation. And those who tried to stop legislation that regulated tobacco have never succeeded in their court bids in various countries, including in the US, the UK, Australia and Ireland.

Tobacco companies know they have no credible facts. That is why they run to the poor and vulnerable. They can easily

It’s lying to the poor by hiding the harmful effects of its products and making them believe that they in fact sustain jobs. All this in a bid to push aside the proposed legislation and advance its own interests, Aaron Motsoaledi writes

SMOKE AND MIRRORS: In South Africa, 42 100 people die every year because of tobacco. Have the tobacco companies calculated the impact of the premature deaths on the economy and the

social devastation to the affected families, asks the writer.

Picture: raneen Sawafta/reuterS/african newS agency (ana)

mislead the poor and make them believe that tobacco sustains job while deliber- ately hiding the harmful effects of tobacco. The multinational tobacco companies would want poor people to believe that it is in the interest of the working class to fight the legislation.

They are pushing a narrative in the minds of our people that health and eco- nomic growth are mutually exclusive. No country has been able to grow its economy with a sick population.

You don’t need a job when you’re dead. Just over 10% of deaths in this country are caused by tobacco-related illnesses. In simple language, 42 100 people die in this country every year because of tobacco. Have these people calculated the impact of these premature deaths on the economy and the social devastation these deaths cause to the families of the victims of tobacco?

There are other costs that are often ignored. For example, our hospitals are overburdened by people who contract

tobacco-related diseases such as lung can- cer. Many of these people have to receive medical care from public health facilities.

Because of our tough stance on the regulation of tobacco, our department has been accused of undermining people’s choices in relation to smoking.

Of course people are free to choose, but there are figures that should shock all of us as a nation. More than 55 000 young people between the ages of 10 and 14 smoke. From 15 years and older, there are more than 6 million people who smoke. Nobody can argue that the children have a full appreciation of the health hazards that smoking presents. They need our collect- ive protection before they take up a habit that has fatal consequences.

To show that we are on the right path, of all the conventions of the UN, the tobacco conventions are the most supported.

Thee companies tried to block the plain packaging of tobacco by approach- ing the World Trade Organisation, an

organisation formed to promote fair trade across the globe, but they did not succeed. According to the World Health Organi-

sation, the experience from dozens of countries and independent scientific evi- dence demonstrate that tobacco control is good for the economy. Tobacco control leads to improved health, lower absentee- ism and lower healthcare costs to treat tobacco-related diseases.

There is no evidence that tobacco con- trol increases illicit trade.

Measures to control smuggling are described in the UN’s Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, which South Africa has signed, and reinforce that comprehensive, strong tobacco-con- trol regulations don’t lead to an increase in illicit trade.

Restaurants and small businesses bene- fit from tobacco control, including smoke- free laws.

A 2018 study, conducted by the Uni- versity of Cape Town and in which 2 000 restaurants took part, demonstrated that

the majority support the changes proposed by the new bill.

Additionally, the study showed that nearly half of all restaurants are smoke free, and have suffered no negative impact.

We will not be derailed from our intent by groups that represent the interests of the tobacco industry and not the interests of South African workers. No costs will be incurred by restaurant owners to convert to 100% smoke-free areas.

Similarly, small businesses have not suffered an undue economic burden from tobacco-control measures, although the tobacco industry often uses the argument to oppose legislation. It is demonstrated that, over time, funds that are not spent on tobacco are spent on other goods.

The World Health Organisation re- cognised the threat of job losses as a well-established and unproved tobacco industry strategy to oppose legislation.

The Department of Health is aiming at protecting young people from having easy access to cigarettes, which in turn negates

addiction to smoking. There is adequate evidence that vaping products are harmful and also promote smoking.

It is important to remember that all the profit made from the tobacco industry are in the hands of a few private interests.

The small number of South African farmers who grow tobacco, about 140, will not be negatively affected by the tobacco control bill. Tobacco production has been decreasing over the past few decades, by as much as 80%, and more than half of the production is for exports.

Farmers are negatively affected by the decisions of corporations that dictate crop prices and control the market. And as global demand declines, farmers must be supported in finding sustainable alterna- tive livelihoods.

The bill is based on facts, and we remain committed to promoting the social and economic development of South Africa through its implementation.

Aaron Motsoaledi is the minister of health

* This article appeared in The Star newspaper on August 15, 2018.

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