Tobacco companies are thriving in Africa due to weak anti-tobacco and tax laws, and tobacco use has increased by 44% between 1990 and 2012.
This is according to Dr Hana Ross, co-author of a study by the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Economics of Tobacco Control Project that was published in the PLOS One scientific journal this week.
Upward trend in consumption
Over the same period, cigarette production increased by 106% in the 22 African countries included in the study, which represent 80% of the continent’s population.
“This upward trend in consumption continues today,” said co-author of the study Nicole Vellios.
If South Africa and Egypt had been excluded from the data, tobacco consumption would have increased by 59%, according to the study. South Africa introduced anti-tobacco policies in 1995, while Egypt did so in 2010.
According to the UCT researchers, South Africa’s anti-tobacco legislation caused a drop in the proportion of South African smokers from 33% to around 20%, the figure “appears to have plateaued at that level”.
Most developed countries have adopted increasingly strict tobacco legislation, and consumption has been steadily decreasing.
In contrast, tobacco use has been on the rise in developing countries “where markets are often unregulated, cigarette prices are low, and tobacco control laws are weak or nor enforced”, noted the study. “Well aware of this situation, the tobacco industry aggressively promotes its products in low- and middle-income countries to attract new consumers.”
Stricter regulations needed
South Africa remains one of the five biggest producers of cigarettes and over 80% of the country’s cigarette exports are to other African countries.
The Control of Tobacco and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill gazetted in May proposes much stricter regulations around the use and sale of tobacco and nicotine products.
The Bill’s proposals include introducing plain packaging (where all products have to look the same), a ban on smoking in any public outdoor area, tight restrictions on indoor smoking as well as punting heavy penalties for breaking these laws, including jail time.
The Bill has been met with much opposition from industry and certain consumer groups but has been praised by the public health field who argue these are necessary protections against the significant health hazards posed by smoking.
The study authors noted that tobacco companies use “the threat of factory closures to influence decision makers to introduce weaker tobacco control policies” in Africa and other developing countries.
“Most recently [British American Tobacco] threatened to close its Heidelberg factory in South Africa if the government introduced plain packaging for cigarette packs,” they noted.
The researchers urged all African governments to resist this industry pressure and introduce stricter tobacco legislation in the interest of protecting people’s health. – Health-e News.
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