South African Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi has asked African governments to guard against the lure of tobacco money, saying the captains of industry are motivated to maximise profits at the expense of lives.
The medical doctor said this on Wednesday when he opened the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Cape Town, South Africa, which has brought together almost 2 200 people from 100 countries to lobby for a tobacco-free world.
The conference, happening for the first time in Africa, has come at a pivotal time when the tobacco industry is fighting back a global push to end tobacco.
Globally, 181 countries, including South Africa and the neighbouring Mozambique, have signed the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention for Tobacco Control which prescribes cutbacks on tobacco production, marketing and use.
However, Malawi is among a league of nations still reluctant to sign up.
Government argues that cutbacks on the country’s topmost export, which generates over two thirds of foreign currency, would harm the economy.
According to the Tobacco Control Commission (TCC), almost 41 900 farmers last year produced almost 149 million kilogrammes (kg) which fetched almost $212 million on the auction floors.
However, Motsoaledi said the benefits of tobacco are mostly embellished to sustain the tobacco industry’s appetite for profits.
He told the press in South Africa: “All the signs are clear that the tobacco industry is staging a fightback. But we all know that the use of tobacco is has no benefits to humanity. The companies, motivated by profits, are preying on Africa to squeeze smaller nations.
“They are using the ticket of job creation to fight back. They are talking about jobs, jobs, jobs. In other words, they are saying: ‘let’s poison you and we will create jobs for you.’ Are they creating these jobs for corpses?”
WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghabreyesus commended South Africa for being among the earliest signatories of the FCTC and enacting laws restricting tobacco use, including cigarette advertising and smoking.
“Almost seven million people worldwide die because of tobacco, making it the leading cause of death. But it is avoidable if government implement measures that work,” he said.
He censured tobacco companies for “increasingly targeting countries low and middle-income countries, saying smoking hurts lives and economies.
To smoke out false claims by the tobacco industry, Blomberg Philanthropies has announced that it would provide $20 million to launch Stop Tobacco Organisations and Products (Stop).
The new global watchdog will aggressively monitor deceptive tobacco industry tactics and practices to undermine public health.
It is the brainchild of US billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York who was appointed WHO special envoy in combating noncommunicable diseases.
Since 2007, Bloomberg has injected almost $1 billion to combat tobacco use worldwide.
Over the last decade, tobacco control measures have saved nearly 35 million lives, but as more cities and countries take action, the tobacco industry is pushing to find new users, particularly among young people,” said the WHO global ambassador for noncommunicable diseases.
“Stop will commit itself to exposing this industry wherever it wields its considerable resources to influence government policy, wherever it distracts from proven interventions by promoting unproven alternative products as a solution and wherever it gains access to the public debate using false and misleading science,” said Bloomberg’s director of public health programmes Kelly Henning.
The watchdog will publicise its findings in line with Article 5.3 of the FCTC which prohibits tobacco industry involvement in government policymaking.