South Africa - smoking rates remain high much more work still needed..

South Africa’s National Council Against Smoking

January 26, 2010 - South Africa has some of the most stringent tobacco laws on the continent, smoking rates remain high with 25 percent of men consuming cigarettes, second only in the region to Namibia’s 36 percent.

Though South Africa one of the few African nations to impose restrictions on cigarette advertisements and smoking in public places, the country’s tobacco industry continues to see top-line growth due to higher unit prices.

Pharmacist and former smoker John Levine says that despite the decline in tobacco sales by volume, there is significant growth in revenues to tobacco companies – and to the state, which heavily taxes cigarettes. Levine says stringently enforced laws restricting smoking in public areas have hit sales. But many people are turning to Chinese-made electronic cigarettes that burn tobacco cartridges, hoping to cut back or stop altogether.

Peter Ucko is the director of South Africa’s National Council Against Smoking. He says anti-smoking campaigns are producing results – though much more needs to be done to warn the population of tobacco-related risks.

“Right now smoking prevalence in South Africa is about 22 percent amongst adults. We are quite pleased with that figure because from the 1990s when the smoking prevalence was around 37 percent, we have had a reduction virtually every year since then. From the 30 percent when we consumed about 40 billion sticks of cigarettes every year down to now 22 percent prevalence as we consume about 22 billion sticks a year,” says Ucko.

Ucko says more stringent regulations are on the way – in particular to prohibit tobacco companies from targeting young people with more aggressive marketing strategies. “Tobacco and smoking should never be advertized and popularized or glamorized so we banned advertising. You can now no longer smoke in any partially closed area. Regulations will come into place banning smoking in certain outdoor areas like sports stadiums and so on,” Ucko said.

Ucko: “We will soon have picture health warnings on our packets and these pictures have been an effective deterrent both for people to start smoking and encouraging smokers when they see the pictures on the packets - remember pictures tell the truth about the dangers of smoking and the risks and it encourages smokers to quit.”

British American Tobacco (BAT) dominates the South African market with 26 brands out of 34 on sale. J.T. International South Africa and Philip Morris are also players with the Camel and Marlboro brands, but their combined market share is a mere five percent.

Analysts say stringent laws, health concerns and higher prices are all hitting sales. But there are fears many poorer South Africans are buying illegal and more dangerous contraband cigarettes to beat rising costs.

Financial expert George Mutize says tobacco remains an important industry as exchange-listed companies continue to pour taxes into government. He adds that the companies also maintain so-called social portfolios to brush up their public images.
“In general the impact is positive,” Mutize maintains. “It provides employment for thousands of people who would otherwise be out of employment. At the same time the tobacco industry pays some of the highest taxes of any sector in the South African economy. In addition to that the tobacco industry provides an alternative investment vehicle on the stock exchange through the BAT listing so the industry plays an important role in the South African economy. There are negatives like the impact of tobacco on the health of locals as well as secondary smoking but I think overall it plays a positive role.”

So although the anti-smoking movement in South Africa has achieved significant gains against the habit, it has further to go to reduce the percent of smokers in the population to the single digits seen in many other countries, including in Africa.

Reference: South African Smoking Rates Stubbornly High, Sandra Nyaira, Voice of America Zimbabwe, 1/25/2010.

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South Africa is currently divided into nine provinces. Johannesburg is in Gauteng province, the richest in South Africa with the largest economy of any metropolitan region in Africa below the Sahara.