By Tamar KAHN
VITALITY Institute head Derek Yach has joined global public health experts in calling for the sale of tobacco products to be phased out by 2040, in an article published on Friday in the UK medical journal The Lancet.
The US-based institute was established by JSE-listed health and life insurer Discovery.
Tobacco is expected to cause 1-billion deaths worldwide by the end of this century, if efforts to tackle smoking and other tobacco products are not accelerated, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). More than 80% of those deaths will be in low- and middle-income countries.
“A goal of a tobacco-free world by 2040 where less than 5% of adults use tobacco is socially desirable, technically feasible, and could become politically practical,” wrote Dr Yach and his co-authors in a paper timed to coincide with the 2015 World Conference on Tobacco or Health taking place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. They said a tobacco target should be included in the post-2015 sustainable development health goal, and that implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control needed to be accelerated, with an amendment to include a global tobacco reduction target.
South Africa was still regarded as a leader among developing countries in its efforts to control tobacco, but could do more, said Dr Yach. “This years budget included increases in excise tax on all tobacco products, proof that it remains committed to the most powerful single approach to address consumption. There are, however, several areas of weakness: the emergence of increased smoking among girls and women still does not evoke the type of outrage and action it should, childrens access to tobacco products remains weakly controlled, and access to effective means of quitting remains poorly addressed despite most smokers seeking help to do so,” he said.
Dr Yach said tobacco control issues no longer enjoyed the media prominence they did a decade ago, leaving many people with the sense that the job had been done.
He and his co-authors argued that e-cigarettes had an important role to play in curbing the consumption of tobacco products, but needed to be more closely regulated.
National Council Against Smoking CEO Yussuf Saloojee said the average consumer in SA smoked about eight cigarettes a day, considerably less than the pack-a-day average smoked in developed countries, and that more could be achieved by fully implementing the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control than by trying to get people to switch to alternative nicotine delivery systems. “The greatest potential for e-cigarettes is an alternative (potentially less harmful) exclusive source of nicotine for heavy, addicted smokers who have tried and failed to quit,” he said.
Mr Saloojee said greater tobacco control would increase jobs, citing research conducted by the University of Cape Town (UCT).
“In 1998, (when the tobacco bill was being debated) economists at UCT published a study showing if people stopped smoking over 50,000 new jobs would be created in SA. They compared the spending patterns of smokers and ex-smokers and found that ex-smokers spent more on education, clothing (childrens) and entertainment than smokers. Since these industries are more labour intensive than cigarette manufacturing, a switch in spending would in the medium term result in the creation of jobs rather than a loss of jobs,” he said.
The Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa CEO Francois van der Merwe said extreme measures to control tobacco were inappropriate. “Rather, the answer lies in the responsible and legal production, manufacture, distribution and use of the product which could be achieved through the education of the public, and particularly children, of the risks involved in its consumption,” he said.
Image credit: THINKSTOCK, via BDLive
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