[Tobacco control in South Africa]

Corné Van Walbeek
Promotion & Education 2005, Suppl 4: 25-8, 57
The aim of this paper is to briefly describe South Africa's experience in tobacco control, and to highlight some of the lessons that are applicable to other developing countries. South Africa's tobacco control strategy is based on two main pillars: (1) rapidly increasing excise taxes on tobacco, and (2) comprehensive legislation, of which the most important features are banning all tobacco advertising and sponsorship, and prohibition of smoking in public and work places. As a result of the increases in the excise tax, the real (inflation-adjusted) price of cigarettes has increased by 115% between 1993 and 2003. Aggregate cigarette consumption has decreased by about a third and per capita consumption has decreased by about 40% since 1993. Despite the decrease in cigarette consumption, real government revenue from tobacco excise taxes has increased by nearly 150% between 1993 and 2003. Some important lessons can be drawn from South Africa's experience in tobacco control. Firstly, strong and consistent lobbying was required to persuade the government to implement an effective tobacco control strategy. Country-specific research, drawn from a variety of disciplines, was used to back up and give credibility to the lobbyists' appeals. Secondly, rapid increases in the excise tax on cigarettes are particularly effective in reducing tobacco consumption. An increase in the excise tax increases the price of cigarettes, which in turn reduces cigarette consumption. In South Africa a 10% increase in the real price of cigarettes decreases cigarette consumption by between 6 and 8%. Similar results have been found for many other developing countries. Thirdly, while an increase in the excise tax is generally regarded as the most effective tobacco control measure, tobacco control legislation also plays an important role in a comprehensive tobacco control strategy. Bans on tobacco advertising and bans on smoking in public and work places denormalise and deglamorise smoking, and are likely to make other tobacco control interventions more effective. Fourthly, the industry would typically claim that they want to be constructive partners in drafting "reasonable and sensible" tobacco control legislation. In South Africa's experience, when they were involved in the drafting process in 1993, the role of the industry was to delay and water down the legislation. In drafting an amendment to the original legislation in 1998, the industry's views were largely ignored, and the result was a more comprehensive and effective piece of legislation. Fifthly, tobacco control legislation, particularly laws banning smoking in indoor public places, is largely self-enforcing. It does not require heavy-handed police intervention, as is typically claimed by the industry. The legislation clarifies and explains that the rights of non-smokers to clean air supersede the right of smokers to smoke. Smokers typically refrain from smoking where smoking is not allowed.

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