South Africa Must Not Allow Tobacco Industry to Commandeer Control Measures
Failure to do so runs the risk of inviting Big Tobacco to sink.
By Guest Author.
October 26th, 2021
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The recently-released Tobacco Industry Interference Index Report for 2021 has indicated that the South African government is not doing enough to prevent its tobacco control policies from being influenced by the industry. Troublingly, this year’s report found that South Africa dropped six points from last year and now finds itself one of the ten nations most vulnerable to industry interference in the world, spelling dire news for anti-tobacco lobbyists, healthcare groups and the more than 60 million people who call South Africa home. The findings are further evidence of the latest stratagems in a lengthy playbook of Big Tobacco tactics, which attempt to forestall, thwart and undermine proper regulation of the sector. Perhaps most concerningly, it appears as though industry opposition has slowed and potentially even entirely derailed efforts to implement a robust track and trace system in the country. Such a mechanism is an integral part of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, which South Africa has signed. Without a robust and independent system to track and trace tobacco, both the black market and the transnational tobacco companies which support and benefit from it are likely to flourish unimpeded. South Africa must do more The main takeaway from the Index Report was the inadequacy of the South African government’s efforts to fend off industry interference. A lack of transparency was one of the biggest criticisms, with meetings between officials and tobacco industry representatives taking place unannounced and behind closed doors, with no public access to their minutes or machinations. Collaboration with industry-funded NGOs is another bugbear that must be addressed, according to the report’s authors. Meanwhile, the paper also pointed to the fact that the existing legislation prohibits corporate social responsibility contributions from tobacco companies, but allows charitable donations – thus creating loopholes which the industry seems to have exploited. Indeed, recently-leaked documents revealed that the South African Revenue Service (SARS) accepted donations from the now-defunct Tobacco Institute of South Africa (TISA)—a move which has been slammed by anti-smoking activists. Sharon Nyatsanza, from the National Council Against Smoking, called SARS’s acceptance of the gifts “a clear violation of the government’s obligations under the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control” and emphasized that “interacting with tobacco companies, especially when done behind closed doors, is a breeding ground for manipulation and should be avoided”.