Taxation and tobacco control in Southern Africa

All the delegates from the conference at UCT

After a long journey to get here, my first week has been more amazing than expected. Not only has it been great to catch up with old friends, but I was invited by my supervisor, Corne Van Walbeek, to sit in on a conference focused on tobacco taxation as a way of tobacco control in Botswana. Through a partnership between the School of Economics at the University of Cape Town, the Botwana Anti Tobacco Network, and the American Cancer Society, the workshop was able to increase knowledge and capacity of advocates, researchers and policy makers from Botswana to promote tobacco tax increases. There were many interesting presentations and debates over the three days. Corne Van Walbeek discussed the effects of a tax on tobacco, the different kinds of taxes possible, and how because tobacco is an inelastic good, the consumer ends up paying the burden of the tax rather than the tobacco industry. Evan Blecher talked about issues surrounding illicit trade of tobacco products and how to combat them. It was very exciting to hear from Dr. Yusuuf Saloojee, director of the National Council Against Smoking in South Africa, as he is one of the biggest names in tobacco control in the country. He discussed how the tobacco industry would respond to attempts to raise taxes on tobacco and gave very detailed, logical arguments to combat them. He also stressed that the tobacco industry should not be allowed to have any say in how they are regulated. A company that doesn’t care that half its users are dying when using their product correctly does not deserve to be treated like a regular company. The conference also allowed for powerful connections to be made between advocates at NGOs, researchers from Universities, and policy makers in government. The fight against tobacco must involve a partnership between many sectors, and this workshop allowed these partnerships to begin to form. Hopefully in the next year or so we will be able to see direct results of this conference with higher taxes on tobacco and ultimately lower smoking rates in Botswana. This week I will be starting my work on compliance with the tobacco control laws in Cape Town, more on that to come.