ETCP Hosts Tobacco Control Stakeholder Engagement Event

A wide range of participants from academia, civil society groups and policy makers attended the stakeholder engagement to discuss the current tobacco control landscape in sub-Saharan Africa.

On the 19th of October, SALDRU’s Economics of Tobacco Control Project (ETCP) hosted a stakeholder engagement meeting for the Tobacco Control Capacity Programme (TCCP). The TCCP is a training and research programme which aims to develop tobacco control experts. It is funded by the UK Research and Innovation’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). The programme involves academics from six UK universities along with research organisations in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Ghana, India, Uganda and South Africa.

The TCCP is located within the ETCP at UCT’s School of Economics. A key aim of the stakeholder meeting was to bring together key parties in tobacco control – from academia, civil society groups, and policy makers – in order to discuss the current tobacco control landscape in sub-Saharan Africa (and South Africa in particular) and to forge a way forward. The main speakers at the event were Mpho Legote, Director of VAT, Excise Duties and Sub National Taxes at the National Treasury and Dr Yussuf Saloojee, former Executive Director of the National Council Against Smoking.

Director of the ETCP project, Prof. Corne van Walbeek, said South Africa is currently in an exciting phase in tobacco control policy, as the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill is being debated. The focus of the stakeholder engagement meeting was primarily on tobacco taxation and illicit trade. In this regard, the engagement garnered perspectives from different stakeholders on how research by the ETCP and this project could support the Bill, which is being strongly opposed by a well-organised tobacco industry that is trying to dilute the Bill.

Background to the Event

The economic, social and personal costs associated with tobacco use are exceptionally high. According to the latest estimates of the World Health Organisation, 7 million people are expected to die annually because of tobacco use. According to a recent study by the National Cancer Institute, the global cost of tobacco is estimated at 1.4 trillion USD per year. This is a staggering amount, more than four times South Africa’s current GDP.

Even though tobacco consumption in South Africa is on the decline, and smoking prevalence is generally low in sub-Saharan Africa, the continent is regarded as particularly vulnerable from a tobacco control perspective. A young and rapidly growing population, rapid economic growth, a desire to attract foreign direct investment, and relatively weak tobacco control policies act together to make sub-Saharan Africa a particularly attractive market for the tobacco industry. There is a significant implementation gap in tobacco control which is being exploited by the tobacco industry.

The industry uses every opportunity to prevent or weaken policy development, and works to undermine its implementation. One of the factors directly contributing to this implementation gap is the shortage of policy-relevant research that can help make the case for effective tobacco control measures in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs).

While South Africa has historically achieved much success in reducing tobacco consumption by means of raising the excise tax, these gains are currently under threat by a large increase in the illicit cigarette trade. Understanding and curbing the sale of illicit cigarettes should be a priority for policy makers. Despite the challenges faced by South Africa at present, the effectiveness of excise tax increases as a means to reducing cigarette sales should not be discounted. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa can learn from South Africa’s experience with tobacco taxes over the past 25 years.