Prof Chris de Beer: SMU Vice-Chancellor

South Africa has officially joined major emerging national economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICS) to establish capacity for monitoring tobacco industry to curb the multi-billion rand tobacco industry from interfering in tobacco control initiatives.

Two tobacco control projects – namely Africa Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research (ATIM) and the Economics of Tobacco Control Centre (ETCC) will be launched on Tuesday 6 March 2018, 14h00, Orchid Room Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) by Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, the Minister of the National Department of Health. ATIM is housed at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU) in Ga-Rankuwa, Pretoria. ETCC is at the University of Cape Town (UCT, in Cape Town.

ATIM is an observatory that offers up-to-date information on the activities and developments in the tobacco industry that could impact on tobacco control policies. The ETCC hosts the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Secretariat’s Knowledge Hub on tobacco taxation and elimination of illicit trade of tobacco products. ETCC is one of the seven WHO FCTC knowledge hubs, worldwide.

SMU’s Vice-Chancellor Prof Chris de Beer said the ATIM would ensure the university is at the epicentre of tobacco control research and industry monitoring initiatives in South Africa. Its establishment is in line with the vision of the university to encourage active community engagements and promote research excellence.

“The Centre is one of the flagship programmes of the SMU. The University trusts that the work of the projects will have a high impact on the monitoring of tobacco interference in the region”,” de Beer said.

                     Prof Lekan Ayo-Yusuf

SMU’s Prof Lekan Ayo-Yusuf, a renowned researcher and tobacco control advocate said while the observatory is based in South Africa, its footprint extends to the rest of Africa. ATIM would act as a continent wide tobacco industry monitoring observatory and a centre for capacity building for tobacco control policy research.

“The aim of the centre is to disseminate the latest trends and research on tobacco control to advocates, academics and policy makers across the region,” said Prof Ayo-Yusuf. “We will also evaluate tobacco control policies across Africa and help governments develop policies that can counter tobacco industry interference in policy development and implementation and help improve in-country advocacy strategies,” he added.

Interference from the tobacco industry is a global phenomenon that has been increasing as the industry tries to grow its market. Industry interference can take various forms such as the tried legal action against governments to stop policies from being implemented or trying to challenge the science supporting effective policies.

There are 1 billion smokers across the globe and nearly 80% of these smokers live in developing countries, according to the WHO. More than 5 million people die from smoking and an additional 600 000 die from second hand smoke.

In South Africa over 17% of the population currently smokes and about 45 000 are estimated to die from tobacco-related disease annually. Smoking is more common among men than women. The Western Cape, Northern Cape and Free State have the highest smoking rates. A study published in 2015 shows that only 29% of South Africa’s smokers were advised to quit smoking by a healthcare provider in 2014. Of South Africa’s smokers, 81.4% had noticed health warnings on tobacco packages, and 49.9% reported that the warning labels had led them to consider quitting. There is therefore need to introduce new legislation such as the standard or plain packs with graphic health warnings, which have been found very effective in other countries.

Although considerable gains have been made to reduce tobacco use over the past 20 years, tobacco use and industry interference needs to be monitored to ensure that tobacco control strategies remain effective.