‘Harm reduction is the way, not sin tax’ – tobacco industry on new bill
Industry experts and tobacco harm reduction advocates have appealed to government to review the newly tabled tobacco bill which is expected to increase the price of nicotine and nicotine-substitute solutions.
The sin tax means that these products will now be included in the tax net with a flat excise duty rate of R2.90/ml from June 1, according to the South African Revenue Service.
The industry is up in arms with some experts suggesting an adoption of harm reduction policies instead.
The tax is being rolled out ahead of the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill, approved by the cabinet in October, which is set to regulate the sale and advertising of tobacco products and electronic delivery systems.
Dr Kgosi Letlape, president of the African Harm Reduction Alliance, says that the bill seeks to prohibit, restrict and ostracise, entrenching further stigma on people who smoke and those who have chosen a safer alternative.
“It does not provide solutions, and if passed, it will be at the cost of human rights and human lives. Today there are numerous approaches and products that can help people quit — or minimise harm when they consume nicotine and yet South Africa is lagging behind.
“To help the country’s millions of smokers, government must understand that it is unethical to withhold information on tobacco harm reduction products from smokers that can reduce the damage wreaked by cigarettes,” said Letlape.
He said policymakers needed to scientifically look at combustion versus non-combustion and the risks and benefits associated with each and then act accordingly.
“Stop painting everything with the same brush, we are urging our president to secure a smoke-free country and to save the lives of millions of cigarette smokers. We should go beyond the smokescreen about the industry. The focus should be on the interests of the smoker.
“Just look at Sweden which didn’t ignore the plight of smokers and combined different strategies for those smokers unable to quit — they’ve achieved astounding results.
“Adult smokers switching to non-combustible alternatives is highly recommended and we are pleading to government to reconsider their stance in the interests of the South African public.”
Products that replace cigarettes for adults who would otherwise continue to smoke need to be considered as a step in the right direction, according to Branislav Bibic, MD of Philip Morris South Africa.
He says that it is irrational to eliminate, for example, exposure to the sun’s rays, but one can slather on sunscreen to mitigate the potential harm of sunburn.
“We can’t avoid, for the most part, the need to travel from place to place via car (or bus, train, or plane), but we can buckle our seat belts to help keep us safe in case of an accident.
“In that same vein, we advocate for tobacco harm reduction strategies to be applied to the known risks of smoking. Indeed, there is growing support for this path among public health bureaus, governments, medical groups, and others,” Bibic said.
Bibic said the best choice for any smoker is to quit tobacco and nicotine entirely.
“However, for those who don’t quit, it is also clear that scientifically substantiated smoke-free alternatives, which provide nicotine and are not risk-free now exist that represent a much better choice than continued smoking.
“These products and their potential to benefit public health are central to our vision of a smoke-free future.”
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