Ban on tobacco displays to protect children: WHO

6d7d9c5e5766.jpgSocial media, the movies and in-store displays continue to push South African children into taking up a deadly addiction.

Friday, 31 May, is World No Tobacco Day and the aim is to highlight the enormous harm caused by tobacco use and to promote effective national policies to reduce tobacco consumption.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death globally and is currently responsible for killing one in 10 adults worldwide (or 6 million people annually). Unless action is taken, the epidemic will kill more than eight million people every year by 2030. Over 80 percent of these preventable deaths will be among people living in lower-income countries. In South Africa, tobacco use kills about 44 400 people a year – this equates to nine percent of all deaths in the country.

The theme for this year’s No Tobacco Day is: Ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. According to WHO, prohibiting tobacco advertising is one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent children from taking up tobacco.

“Advertising falsely portrays tobacco use as a key to sexual attraction, social success and glamour, but hides an ugly reality – that users often end up being unable to talk (from laryngeal cancer), walk (from blood vessel disease) or breathe (from emphysema),” says Dr Yussuf Saloojee from the National Council Against Smoking. 

This year’s theme is particularly relevant to the African continent. With global cigarette sales beginning to stagnate, African markets offer the industry a bright future. Imperial Tobacco company in a 2009 report noted that in Africa “populations are growing as is GDP, which, when combined with the relatively low current smoking incidence and increasing purchasing power, means we [the tobacco industry] are confident that there is plenty of potential for future growth across the region.”  The way to harness this potential is through advertising, which is not regulated in the majority of African countries.

A few African countries including South Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius and Niger are amongst the 86 countries around the world that have banned tobacco advertising and promotions. Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma authored South Africa’s ban in 1999 when she was health minister. As chair of the African Union Commission, it is expected that she will act just as strongly to protect the continent’s children from the deadly addiction being pedalled by the tobacco industry.

The theme for World No Tobacco Day is also highly relevant to South Africa. “The tobacco industry has aggressively opposed the country’s ban on advertising and promotions. It has both attempted to evade the restrictions and block them through the courts,” says Saloojee.

“South Africans no longer see tobacco advertising on TV, billboards and in newspapers or hear it on the radio, but that does not mean youth are no longer exposed to industry marketing. Consider, Facebook, in-store advertising, cigarette packages, the more than 15 billion tobacco images delivered yearly to audiences of Hollywood and Bollywood films, and so-called corporate social responsibility activities,” he says.

British American Tobacco has also turned to the courts in an effort to continue to promote tobacco products. The company unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of the country’s tobacco advertising ban. Dismissing the case, Justice Mthiyane of the Supreme Court ruled: “There can be no question that the government has a responsibility to protect its citizens from the ravages of tobacco” and that a “prohibition on the advertising and promotion of tobacco is reasonable and justified”.

Source: NCAS


  • Wilma Stassen

    Wilma Stassen is a reporter at Health-e News Service. She focuses on non-communicable diseases. Follow her on Twitter @Lawim

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