Tobacco control in South Africa was a substantial public health concern in 1996. With resistance both inside and outside of the government, Minister of Health Dr. Zuma was not facing an easy task. Many organizations within South Africa had deeply vested interests in cigarettes sales, foremost of these the Rembrandt Tobacco Manufacturing Company. Unfortunately, opposition to any legislation for tobacco control also extended to organizations such as the South African Business Institute and the South African Broadcasting Corporation. While politicians in the government remained divided on the issue, tobacco companies were able to extend their reach to children, the illiterate, and the poor of South Africa through various methods. With such strong resistance, public health officials clashed with tobacco supporters at every step of the way to increase tobacco control legislature. However, the tobacco industry remained powerful and there was still much room for improvement in tobacco control. In such a situation, a two-step strategy for increasing legislation for tobacco control could have been adopted to first debunk claims from the tobacco industry and then act accordingly.
Despite mounting evidence about the adverse effects of tobacco use, the South African tobacco industry almost sidestepped this issue and instead recruited various organizations to battle any tobacco control legislature under the banner of economic pressure. From preventing substantial increases on cigarette taxes to even preventing anti-tobacco ads from airing on various forms of media due to potential advertising fee losses, the tobacco industry and its allies attempted to persuade politicians of economic losses should any form of tobacco control ensue. While these claims certainly pack a punch, they are merely attempts to deflect attention elsewhere and research has shown that these arguments do not hold. On the contrary, studies have show that most countries would not see net job losses if tobacco consumption fell (1, 2). A decline in spending on tobacco does not equate to an adverse effect on overall economy (2). Raising taxes on tobacco would also raise cigarette tax revenues by a considerable amount rather than lowering government revenues as claimed (1, 2).
With these flimsy arguments removed out of the way, the tobacco industry would have no other excuses to fall back on and would allow for focus on increased cigarette taxes. Various studies have found raising taxes on tobacco to be the most effective method of reducing smoking (1). In particular, a number of studies have found that young people under the age of 25 are particularly sensitive to price and that an increase in price would reduce youth smoking (3). This effect of raised taxes on youth seems particularly important given that most people do not begin smoking or become habitual smokers after their teen years (4).
With a full health agenda requiring her attention, these two steps would allow for a return to the core issue of the effect of tobacco use on health and present a simple but highly effective strategy for tobacco control.
1. Jha P, Chaloupka FJ. The economics of global tobacco control. BMJ 2000;321(7257):358-361.
2. Warner KE. The economics of tobacco: myths and realities. Tobacco Control 2000;9(1):78-89.
3. Thomas S, Fayter D, Misso K, Ogilvie D, Petticrew M, Sowden A, et al. Population tobacco control interventions and their effects on social inequalities in smoking: systematic review. Tobacco Control 2008;17(4):230-237.
4. Lantz PM, Jacobson PD, Warner KE, Wasserman J, Pollack HA, Berson J, et al. Investing in youth tobacco control: a review of smoking prevention and control strategies. Tobacco Control 2000;9(1):47-63.