Smoking cigarettes is the most harmful form of consuming nicotine and it is the duty of government to ensure that smokers have access to less harmful nicotine products to accelerate the decline smoking rates in the country.
This is the expressed view of Dr Kgosi Letlape, Health Activist and Harm-Reduction Advocate who says: “It is government’s duty to encourage smokers who don’t quit to choose less harmful products. I encourage the Minister to tax these products at a lower rate than cigarettes to incentivise smokers who don’t quit to choose better substitutes than combustible tobacco.”
The statement comes days before Minister Tito Mboweni is to deliver his most anticipated annual budget speech.
“Smokers should quit smoking, but many don’t,” he says. “Even with the recent stringent ban on the sale of tobacco products, 8% of smokers quit and half of those relapsed after the ban was lifted, according to data from the latest National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM). For the betterment of all we have a duty to ensure that the choices smokers are making are less harmful to their health.”
It remains to be seen how the tax on tobacco and nicotine products will fare. “A tax differential between cigarettes and non-combustible tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, is essential to encourage those who don’t quit to change,” he adds.
Dr Letlape explains: “I’ve observed that there are four groups of addicts in relation to the tobacco industry: the government are addicted to the taxes, the industry is addicted to profit, the smokers are addicted to nicotine and the healthcare professionals or experts are addicted forming positions based on opinions rather than science.”
He continues: “Traditional tobacco control methods have their place but incorporating tobacco harm reduction can accelerate the decline in smoking rates which will have a positive impact on public health and society as a whole.”
“It is estimated there are 11-million smokers in South Africa, many of whom have tried or failed to quit cigarettes,” he explains. “It is unethical to deprive people of alternatives that are less harmful to their health and tobacco is no exception.”
“South Africa’s approach to regulating less harmful nicotine products should be based on scientific evidence and best practices from other countries that are making rapid progress in reducing smoking rates,” he adds. “This includes lower taxes for these products compared to cigarettes.
He explains: “Taxing less harmful nicotine products too highly will make them unaffordable, especially for low-income groups, which will reduce their incentive to change to better products instead of cigarettes. This will not help to reduce smoking rates and smoking-related diseases.”
“What we need to see from the Minister is to use excise as a tool to give smokers better options than cigarettes and in so doing reduce harm to the population,” he says. “It would be a shame if people continue smoking cigarettes instead of choosing better substitutes because taxes put these products out of reach for them.”