7 February 2013

Namibia: Tobacco Lobby Continues Fight Against Plain Packaging

Windhoek — The Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (TISA) is displeased with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and with Namibia's adamant stance to implement the Tobacco Products Control Act No. 1 of 2010 in line with WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The legislation will black out marketing and promotion of tobacco products in the country and restrict tobacco vending machines to controlled areas with an 18-year age limit.

The Act also prohibits sponsorship of any Namibian event, however charitable, by tobacco companies or distributors of tobacco products.

"While we support sensible tobacco control programmes, focusing on education and awareness of harmful products, there is no proof that plain packaging will have any effect on the uptake of a harmful product," TISA said in response to remarks made at the opening of the Regional Consultative Meeting on Tobacco and Trade on Monday in Windhoek.

Governments worldwide are pursuing similar policies of plain packaging for tobacco products, with some governments opting for somewhat roundabout plain packaging methods that increase the size of the compulsory health warnings, thus leaving very little space for branding. Tobacco companies and their lobbyists have initiated parallel lawsuits in various countries, threats that were dealt an unprecedented blow when the Australian courts threw such lawsuits out of the courts. Australia, Canada and several Asian countries have already implemented some measure of plain packaging with huge graphic health warnings on cigarette boxes. The United Kingdom is seriously considering implementing similar legislation.

TISA is however threatening governments in Southern Africa with lawsuits.

Tobacco companies operating in Namibia have already threatened to sue government if it implements the legislation, saying there is no proof plain packaging would reduce smoking.

"Taking away a company's branding may infringe international copyright and intellectual property law," TISA further argues.

The Namibian Act would prohibit the display of wording such as "mild, low tar or light" on cigarette boxes or any other tobacco products, because they create the impression that such a specific tobacco product is less harmful than others. The legislation is also aiming to prevent packaging that advertises and promotes tobacco products.

The legislation is expected to reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products for consumers, particularly young people.

A mandatory restriction on packaging methods is also being proposed and it would include graphic pictures depicting the ill health associated with smoking. These range from stained teeth, throat cancer to damaged lungs and breast cancer with appropriate warnings underneath the picture.

TISA argues that if governments proceed with the implementation of plain packaging, they may fall foul of provisions in international trade agreements that protect intellectual property rights.

As with any product, TISA said, branding allows consumers to differentiate between tobacco products. Tobacco products are legal products and adult consumers who are aware of the risks should have the right to choose the brand they want, the tobacco industry representative in the Southern African region was of the opinion.

The WHO has estimated that tobacco consumption could increase from 1.2 billion smokers at the turn of the century to more than 1.6 billion in 2025. In Namibia, the number of female smokers is on the increase with the Hardap Region reporting an average 24 percent, topping the list of women smokers nationwide. Interestingly, that average percentage also exceeds the estimated number of women smokers worldwide, which is pegged at 20 percent of the total number of smokers.

In the Omaheke Region, women smokers are estimated to make up 5 percent of all smokers. "The number could increase as the industry sees opportunities for business, especially among women and the youth," the Ministry of Health and Social Services has warned.

TISA represents the tobacco industry in South Africa, but its mandate and reach extends into the Southern African Customs Union and the Southern African Development Community.

It represents tobacco growers, leaf merchants, leaf processors, manufacturers, importers and exporters of tobacco products in South Africa.

TISA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Finance, which seeks to combat the illicit trade in tobacco products in Namibia, as well as the SADC region, late last week.

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