News24

Govt mulls unbranded cigarettes

2010-05-25 12:25

Cape Town - Despite having some of the most progressive anti-smoking legislation in the world, the South African government says it would consider the possibility of further restrictions, including generic unbranded cigarette packaging.

Asked by News24 whether South Africa would follow Australia in its bid to see all branding removed from cigarette packaging, the Department of Health responded: "The South African government, mainly the Department of Health, will still consider any effective measure which will relieve the harmfulness of tobacco products to human beings which includes young people."

The department said it had "made huge improvements in the past years regarding this particular issue".

This comes after the Australian announced in April that starting from July 1, all tobacco companies will be legally compelled to remove branding from their product packaging.

Legal action 'inevitable'

However, marketing commentator Jonathan Cherry said it would be best if the South African government waited for the Australian situation to play itself out first before committing to removing all branding from cigarette packaging.

"The tobacco industry will probably lock government in a court battles for years," Cherry told News24.

He said whatever precedent is set by the "inevitable" legal battle will determine whether other countries follow suit.

Cherry said South African laws were "very advanced and strict already" and that attempting to go the Australian way might fuel the growth of the counterfeit cigarette industry.

"People are always going to like cigarettes. Locking down the industry like that would open it up to counterfeiting. With branding, you can tell counterfeit cigarettes from real ones," he said.

He said, as in Australia, the move might end up costing the government a lot of money as branding is protected under intellectual property law.

Compensation


"To deny someone to use their own property one would have to pay compensation," he said.

It has been reported that the Australian government could end up paying up to A$3bn a year to tobacco companies in compensation.

The National Council Against Smoking has commended the Australian government for proposing the law.

"I certainly think it is a step in the right direction. The Australian government is very courageous," said the council's Dr Yussuf Saloojee noting, like Cherry, that the "heavy tobacco lobby" would challenge the law's adoption.

He also praised the South African government's efforts.

"Since 1994 there has been a very significant fall in tobacco consumption," he said.

Cigarette sales falling in SA

According to Saloojee, statistics show that about 40 billion cigarettes were sold in South Africa in 1991, compared to 23 billion reflected in the latest statistics.

According to current legislation the government has the power to decide what appears on cigarette packs and vending machines.

The health department said work on legislation that would see photographic warnings placed on cigarette packaging was still ongoing.

"The process thus far is that the national task team is busy working on the draft regulations and testing the first set of pictures," it said.

It said the draft would be gazetted for public comment before it can be finalised.

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