Picture: AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI
Picture: AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI

Business Day recently published an article sponsored by Philip Morris SA (PMSA), “Unsmoke SA: it’s time for a new conversation to reduce smoking rates” and BusinessTech also published a similar article.

In both PMSA advertises and promotes the heat-not-burn tobacco product IQOS.

Heat-not-burn products, including Philip Morris International’s (PMI’s) IQOS device, are tobacco products and should not be advertised or promoted in terms of the Tobacco Control Act of 1993. This act introduced a ban on all advertising, marketing and sponsorship of tobacco products.

IQOS is a battery-operated device that heats tobacco-filled sticks wrapped in paper to produce an inhalable aerosol. IOQS is an electronic device that looks similar to an e-cigarette, but the latter heats up a toxic liquid to produce an inhalable aerosol. While e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, IQOS contains tobacco and is subject to the same restrictions as cigarettes.

The Tobacco Control Act prohibits the advertising of all tobacco products including devices that use tobacco. Violation of the comprehensive advertising ban attracts a penalty of up to R1m.

All forms of direct and indirect advertising of tobacco products including print, radio, TV, sponsorship of events or projects are banned by the law. This is because advertising, marketing and sponsorship encourage positive attitudes towards tobacco products. They also mislead the public regarding the harm from the product and promote the use of the product to the public.

PMSA is of course aware of this comprehensive advertising and promotion ban which came into effect on January 9 2009 through the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Act (No 63 of 2008), yet continues to advertise its products and violate the law. PMSA is a legal business allowed to sell its products, but this should be done within the law.

Thousands of readers have already viewed PMSA’s “Unsmoke” campaign publications and advertising through these newspapers, which is what PMI wanted. The damage has already been done. IQOS is clearly promoted as “safer” in these articles, contrary to existing law and evidence.

Evidence has shown that heat-not-burn devices are not less harmful than cigarettes and research shows that PMI’s own data does not support the claims it makes about IQOS. Also, more than 50% of the people interested in IQOS are those who have never smoked, making IQOS a product that introduces people to tobacco products. This makes IQOS a gateway for nicotine addiction and subsequent cigarette use.

Real threat

The reality is that tobacco, including heat-not-burns, snuff, hookah pipes and cigarettes are a real threat to SA’s health and economy. One hundred and fifteen people die from tobacco-related illness each day in SA and the country spends R59bn each year in health care and lost productivity. This is in stark contrast with the R13bn in tax collected from the tobacco industry, leaving the over R45bn deficit to be carried by the public.

The tobacco industry takes the profits, while the taxpayer carries the financial burden from the harm tobacco causes. The money used to address tobacco-related harm could be better used to fund fees for university students or new hospitals in underserved areas.

Beyond SA, PMI continues to challenge laws that are meant to curb tobacco use. In Columbia, PMI is challenging a law that stops the sale of tobacco products near educational and public-health institutions. In India, it is challenging the introduction of graphic health warnings for cigarettes. PMI violates and challenges laws put in place to reduce tobacco smoking, yet it publicises its intent to reduce tobacco use through its campaigns.

Evidence-based measures

The World Health Organisation’s “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control” (FCTC) sets out gold standard evidence-based measures to curb tobacco use. Heat-not-burns and e-cigarettes do not form part of WHO’s measures because they are not effective at stopping smoking  and they are not safer to use.

What the FCTC  recommends is the implementation of a comprehensive ban on all forms of advertising and promotions such as PMI’s “Unsmoke” campaign, which the Tobacco Control Act does.

The FCTC also recommends additional measures that SA has proposed in the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill. The bill will bring our tobacco control policy closer to full compliance with the FCTC.

While current law regulates tobacco products including IQOS, the new law will extend regulation to e-cigarettes. It will provide for 100% smoke-free indoor and some outdoor spaces, protecting non-smokers from second-hand smoke. The bill will require plain packaging and graphic health warnings for all products such as IQOS and e-cigarettes and ban advertising at tills. These are the evidence-based ways to control tobacco use.

We recommend that the department of health establish a monitoring unit to ensure that companies adhered to the advertising and marketing laws. The monitoring unit would ensure that the existing comprehensive laws are enforced. PMI must be held accountable for undermining the law.

• Kalideen and Nyatsanza are with the National Council Against Smoking

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