‘Popeye pipe’ is the ‘smoking gun’ that children are exposed to

2015-06-11 06:00
Toys and sweets resembling tobacco products are illegal in terms of the Tobacco Products Control Act but sometimes these products still slip through the cracks, like this Popeye ‘sherbet with pipe’ that landed on a local supermarket shelf and had to

Toys and sweets resembling tobacco products are illegal in terms of the Tobacco Products Control Act but sometimes these products still slip through the cracks, like this Popeye ‘sherbet with pipe’ that landed on a local supermarket shelf and had to

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I WAS shocked when my son’s ­eight-year-old friend walked into my kitchen puffing on a tiny pipe that spewed clouds of sugary white “smoke” into the air.

Of course, my initial reaction was to chase him out because of the mess the sticky sherbet “smoke” would make on the floor. But then the seriousness of the moment hit me — he was simulating smoking tobacco and the little toy pipe in his hand was illegal and should never have been sold to a child in the first place.

In fact, I was with my 12-year-old daughter when she bought several packets of the colourfully packaged Popeye Pipe Sherbet “with pipe” for a mere R1,60 at our local Super Spar, but it was only later that I realised it was wrong, although I’ve reported on illegal tobacco product confectionery — specifically those white cigarettes with red tips — in the past.

However, a little unsure whether the plastic “pipe”, sold in packaging depicting a cartoon of a pipe-smoking Popeye, was similarly banned under the Tobacco Products Control Act, I asked National Council Against Smoking (NCAS) executive director Yusuf Saloojee about it before approaching the supermarket.

Saloojee said it was clearly “illegal” as toy cigarettes, cigars and pipes were covered under the Act, which defined tobacco products as “any product containing tobacco intended for human consumption”.

Section 4 of the act reads: “No person may sell or supply any confectionery or toy that resembles or is intended to represent any tobacco product.”

When I approached Queensmead Spar to complain about the product, manager Greg Fotheringham said he was not familiar with the legislation, but impressively, without any argument, he immediately removed all of the stock from the shelf, saying he would contact head office to investigate.

Spar group marketing executive Mike Prentice said the group was aware of the legislation but its retailers were independently owned and had the right to purchase from any supplier.

“It is an exceptionally good thing because they support local suppliers and farmers but the problem is we can’t control everything that they buy,” he said.

Prentice said he was pleased that the manager had handled the complaint properly and he promised to inform all Spar retailers that the product was not allowed on the shelves.

Theo Woycieh, factory manager of Marburg Sweets, the sherbet supplier, said he was unaware of the tobacco law, saying he had also understood that the pipe was just a plastic utensil that did not necessarily resemble a pipe, similar to those in its other sherbet products.

Woycieh said he was grateful to be informed and the company would no longer supply the product.

“We try at any cost to be as compliant as we can,” he said.

Tobacco Alcohol and Gambling Advisory Advocacy and Action Group, director Peter Ucko advised consumers to first complain to retailers and suppliers about any offending products, before escalating matters to the municipal health department, which had powers to seize and destroy offending products. He added that companies could be fined up to R100 000 for a contravention.

“If he doesn’t remove and undertake to never sell again you can open a docket at SAPS,” Ucko added.

Salojee agreed that consumer activism was the best antidote.

“Smoker regulations work because ordinary citizens have demanded their right to clean air and have taken the issue up with employers, shopping malls, and restaurants. We do not need the police to become involved, except in extreme cases,” he said.

Salojee said New Zealand and Australia had similar laws in a bid to protect children from the dangers of smoking as there was evidence that children who have a promotional item, such as a T-shirt, from the industry are twice as likely to smoke in future. “A large part of the lure of smoking is that youngsters see it as an adult behaviour. Puffing on cigarette or pipe sweets allows children to imitate adult behaviour.

“Making smoking a socially unacceptable behaviour is a key component in reducing tobacco use. On the other hand, the cigarette and alcohol companies strive to make tobacco use appear a normal, familiar, every day behaviour as part of their marketing strategy.”

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