There is an irreconcilable conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health, says report.
SA has extremely limited capacity to fend off the influence of the tobacco industry, according to an international report released on Thursday. The report sounds a warning to the government as the health department gears up to tighten oversight of the sector with the draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill. The bill, which seeks to tighten loopholes in the law and bring e-cigarettes into the regulatory net, was released for public comment in 2018 and is being considered by the state law adviser. The revised bill is then expected to be referred to cabinet, and then to parliament.
The Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index ranks SA joint eighth with the US out of 33 countries, with a score of 74. The UK, which was the most effective at resisting industry influence, scored 26. The report was compiled by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products.
“There is an irreconcilable conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health. The tobacco industry globally, and in SA, tries to weaken, dilute and slow down tobacco control measures to protect their profits,” wrote University of Cape Town professor Corné van Walbeek in the report.
“This report shows the industry has tentacles in many dimensions of government and society ... Despite its slick attempts to come across as a reasonable partner, the tobacco industry is anything but,” he said. The report says SA has failed to implement key recommendations in the World Health Organisation’s framework convention on tobacco control, to which it is a signatory, enabling the tobacco industry to participate in policy development.
“Various consultations take place between the tobacco industry and the Treasury, SA Revenue Service (Sars), the SA Police Service, and the department of trade & industry and the department of agriculture, forestry & fisheries,” it says.
It also says Sars’s anti-tobacco task team had been manipulated by big tobacco companies to fight their competitors and that they were instrumental in the destruction of the special investigative units at the tax body. The issues raised in the report were well known to the government, said the health department’s deputy director-general for communicable and non-communicable diseases, Yogan Pillay.
“We know that the [tobacco] industry like the beverage industry does try all manner of ways to influence public policy all over the world. The department is steadfast in our approach — tobacco kills — and will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to control tobacco use,” he said.
Tobacco Institute of SA (Tisa) CEO Francois van der Merwe rejected the use of the term “interference”, saying it was vital for industry to work alongside the government to ensure proper regulation was in place that achieved its intended objectives.
“Do we as industry lobby for our cause in SA? The answer is absolutely yes, and we lobby very hard within the rules of the game, and we will continue to do so. Do we interfere or influence unduly, the answer is categorically no, we do not,” he said. Tisa is an industry association for the tobacco sector and includes growers and cigarette manufacturers.
He also rejected the report’s assertions about the influence of big tobacco companies on Sars.
“Government on its own did not have the knowledge, capacity or the political will to tackle the illicit tobacco trade. In the true spirit of partnership, we assisted over the years in many ways to address this scourge.” He said that in 2013 Tisa had received an award from Sars for having a model public and private partnership.
This article originally appeared at the Business Live website