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Bill to stub out new cigarette selling tactics Scholarships, glamorous parties to go Science and Health Editor CAPE TOWN Government is poised to tighten the screws on tobacco companies, closing legal loopholes that have allowed the industry to sidestep the Tobacco Products Control Act to promote its products. The number of people who smoke had fallen since the act was passed in 1993, but laws needed to be tightened to protect nonsmokers and reduce the risks for people who continued to smoke, the health department's director of health promotion, Zanele Mthembu, said in a meeting of the multiparty health portfolio committee . About 25% of South Africans smoked, and tobacco-related diseases killed an estimated 25000 people each year, she said. Cigarette advertising and sponsorship were banned in April 2001, but British American Tobacco (BAT), which has more than 90% of the local market, developed a host of alternative ways to legally market its products. Drawing on its consumer databases, BAT used the internet and cellphone text messages to spread the word about glamorous private parties and events, and marketed its products one-toone in clubs and on beaches. "The parties are supposed to be for smokers, but nonsmokers are lured into buying (and smoking) cigarettes to get into the select group invited to these events," said Mthembu. The health department intended to ban all promotion of this kind with the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Bill, which still had be scrutinised by the cabinet and passed by Parliament before it became law. Corporate sponsorship of students through dedicated bursaries and scholarships would also be banned. "The industry says it is making a contribution to uplifting the economy, but we all know why they are doing this to advance their cause," Mthembu said. BAT spokesman Simon Millson said: "We support regulation, but if you over-regulate you allow the illegal operators to increasingly make gains in the market." He said illicit trade in tobacco products in SA had risen sharply since the Tobacco Products Control Act was introduced. Armin Aeberhard, the local MD of newcomer Phil ip Morris, said tighter legislation would restrict marketing activities of tobacco companies to such an extent that it would hinder new entrants and stifle competition. The bill, which was first published for public comment a year ago, also proposes tighter control of smoking in public places and steeper fines for breaking the law. Fines are currently limited to R200, making the courts reluctant to prosecute offenders, said Patricia Lambert, legal adviser to Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Sales of cigarettes would be banned at hospitals and schools, the minimum age for buying cigarettes raised from 16 to 18, and children would be barred from public smoking areas . Cigarette manufacturers will also be required to provide details of the ingredients and additives in their products. The health department did not intend to ban cigarettes, as this would drive sales underground, said Lambert. Instead, government would tightly regulate cigarette sales and use, and inform the public about the dangers of tobacco. "Cigarettes are deadly. They will harm or kill the people who use them, which is exactly what their manufacturers intend," she said.

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