The World Health Organisation (WHO) is urging governments to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products. According to the organisation plain packaging can save lives by reducing the demand for tobacco products.
Tuesday marks World No-Tobacco Day. The day aims at raising awareness on dangers of smoking and health hazards associated to tobacco use. It is marked annually on 31 May and this year it is celebrated under the theme “Get ready for plain packaging.”
It is recommended that all packages have a standard colour
WHO representative in South Africa Sarah Barber says plain packaging which is also referred to as standardised packaging, means that a cigarette package will not have any logos, pretty colours and brand images or promotional information.
“It is recommended that all packages have a standard colour and that the brand, product name would be in a standard colour and font, be a small part of the cigarette package.”
Australia is one of the countries that have introduced the policy. WHO says since the Australian government introduced it in 2012, between December 2012 and September 2015, there was a 0.55 percentage point fall in smoking prevalence among those aged 14 and above.
Although there are advantages to the policy, the tobacco industry argues that it could be detrimental to the economy in the case of South Africa. The Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa Chairperson, Francois van der Merwe says introduction of the policy in South Africa could lead to job losses.
“We firmly believe that the introduction of plain packaging in South frica will not enhance the growth of the economy, it will actually undermine the growth of the economy. The tobacco sector in South Africa, on the manufacturing side provides jobs somewhere between 2 500 and 3000 jobs in factories, and then on farms we have between 8 and 10 000 people in deep rural areas where other jobs are hard to find with about 35 to 40 000 dependants in rural areas making a living from tobacco.”
This is a claim that the National Council Against Smoking disputes.
Executive Director Yussuf Salojee has described this as a myth perpetuated by the tobacco industry. “If you look at farming in South Africa, it has declined tremendously since 1986; this was before the country introduced any tobacco control laws, the cigarette companies found very cheaper to tobacco from Brazil and Paraguay, so they are not worried about jobs in South Africa.
“Cigarette are made by machines, a machine can produce over a million cigarettes in a few minutes and there are about 3 000 people employed in making cigarettes in South Africa and 44 000 people die every year from diseases caused by tobacco.”
Barber says resistance from the tobacco industry should come as no surprise. “The tobacco industry has tried to fight this particular policy and many countries can expect substantial tobacco industry opposition to plain packaging because it is so effective, the tobacco use kills 6 million people globally 600 000 of those are non-smokers who have been exposed to second hand smoke, so the tobacco industry has to recruit new smokers, advertising and promotion of tobacco products is a critical part of recruiting new smokers so that they can maintain their business.”
Van der Merwe says that the people who will benefit from the policy are illegal counterfeit syndicates. He says that the removal of branding on the cigarettes will make it easy for criminals to produce counterfeit cigarettes.