According to a study by an international cigarette brand, the proliferation of illicit cigarettes in SA is a major headache and authorities should prioritise this issue, rather than the proposed plan of plain packaging of tobacco products.
The results of a survey commissioned by the Japan Tobacco International (JTI), a global tobacco company, found that 86% of South Africans agreed that the government should prioritise developing and investing in an effective policy to reduce the amount of illegal cigarettes in the country instead.
According to the results released yesterday, at least 88% of respondents said that if government was serious about reducing youth smoking, its priority should be enforcing existing regulations, with 92% stating government’s priority should be education programmes in media and in schools.
The survey, conducted by independent opinion research company Victory Research, found that most South Africans (87%) held that Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, should, instead, prioritise effective enforcement of existing rules prohibiting the sale of alcohol and cigarettes to minors.
Plain cigarette products packaging came in stone last when the respondents were asked to directly rank the policy compared to 10 other areas for Mkhize to consider, with an overwhelming 99% saying it was more important to prioritise the provision of better hospitals, healthcare and infrastructure.
JTI conducted a similar study in the UK last year and the results were similar – the majority of the UK public were not supportive of the policy but were more concerned that government had imported the failed policy from Australia without fully evaluating the potential negative consequences.
JTI’s corporate affairs and communications director for south, east and central Africa Bongani Mshibe said as the sale of illegal tobacco spiralled out of control in SA, authorities continued to insist on further restricting the legal industry that complied with regulations.
“Rather, they should focus their efforts on enforcing the existing and already sufficient regulations, working with the tobacco sector as a whole to combat illegal trade, and concentrate on introducing ‘youth centred’ tobacco prevention programmes.
“It seems South Africans agree with this view. The question is whether anyone is listening,” he said.
The study concluded that the main issue with youth smoking was believed to be the poor enforcement of existing regulations and that education was more important than regulation.
Most South Africans questioned believed plain packaging for cigarettes is unnecessary, a poor use of government resources and not the most important or effective policy the government should pursue if it wanted to reduce youth smoking.
In addition, respondents expressed a high level of concern about plain packaging resulting in negative consequences, such as a spike in illegal cigarette sales and that it might benefit organised crime.
In November last year, the Ipsos Tobacco Market Study commissioned by the Tobacco Institute of South Africa revealed that the No 1 tobacco brand in SA is now a suspected illegal brand.