Minister of Health Launches UCT Tobacco Taxation Knowledge Hub to Support World Health Organisation

South Africa’s Minister of Health, Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi at the launch of the WHO FCTC Knowledge Hub on Tobacco Taxation, pictured with the Head of the Convention Secretariat WHO FCTC, Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva and SALDRU’s director, Prof. Murray Leibbrandt.

By Sibusiso Hlatjwako | SALDRU

Every year tobacco and tobacco products are responsible for seven million deaths around the world. However, increasing the excise tax on tobacco products is consistently being found as an effective tool to reduce tobacco use.

Correspondingly, SALDRU’s Economics of Tobacco Control Project was nominated by the National Department of Health to establish a Knowledge Hub on Tobacco Taxation on behalf of and in support of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Secretariat. The FCTC aims to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption, including exposure to tobacco smoke. It covers 90% of the world’s countries.

The Knowledge Hub was officially launched by the Minister of Health, Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi on 6 March 2018 on the side-lines of the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health, an international conference held for the first time in Africa, since its inauguration in 1967 in the U.S.

The Knowledge Hub on Tobacco Taxation and Illicit Trade is one of seven knowledge hubs created by the FCTC Secretariat. Its aim is to support Parties, especially those in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, to implement better tobacco tax systems, to raise the excise tax, and to better understand and counter illicit trade.

The Knowledge Hub is an example of the important contribution academic institutions can make in support of governments policy formulation. It is aligned to broader goals such as universal access to healthcare and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Alluding to the integrity of academic research in his speech at the launch of the hub, Minister Motsoaledi contended, “The Knowledge Hub will do research, not research for hire.”

The minister also outlined impending measures aimed at curbing tobacco consumption. He said that the South African government is committed to fighting tobacco and is currently working on legislation that will address plain cigarette packaging; completely getting rid of public smoking areas (this entails abolishing currently permitted allocated smoking areas in public spaces); banning the display of cigarettes on shop counters; removing cigarette vending machines that enable the sale of cigarettes to minors, and developing stronger policies on the minimum distance smokers can smoke at public entrances, such as, at airport terminals.

South Africa is a leading country taking a strong stance against tobacco use. This decision has resulted in a 25% reduction in smoking amongst school-going youth between 1999 and 2011. Meanwhile, the prevalence of smoking amongst the adult population has dropped from 33% in 1993 to under 19% in 2012.

Talking about the importance of the Knowledge Hub’s work, Professor Corné Van Walbeek, the Principal Investigator at the ETCP said, “Many countries in Africa have relatively weak institutions. They are unable to fight against the very powerful marketing strategies of the tobacco industry to expand into Africa. They typically also do not have the technical expertise to implement high excise taxes. If we don’t watch out, Africa will follow a similar path as North America and Europe where there is massive increase in tobacco consumption leading to many deaths.”

The work of the Knowledge Hub is largely made possible by financial support from Cancer Research United Kingdom and the Government of Norway.

Hlatjwako is the director of the WHO FCTC Knowledge Hub at UCT.