SAITA: Don’t leave informal trade behind in move to less harmful tobacco products

The South African Informal Traders Alliance (SAITA), the official voice of over two million informal traders in South Africa, is calling on government and tobacco companies to ensure informal traders and their customers are not left behind in the move to less harmful tobacco products, and away from combustible products such as cigarettes.

Last week, SAITA hosted an educational webinar, as part of its SAITA STRAIGHT TALK series, for its members with ​​health activist and harm-reduction advocate, Dr Kgosi Letlape, to learn more about the principle of harm reduction and less harmful alternatives to cigarettes.

During the webinar, Letlape said: “Smoking cigarettes is the most harmful form of consuming nicotine.   The harmful chemicals which are produced when tobacco is burned is the main cause of smoking-related diseases, and in terms of harm reduction, when we don’t burn tobacco, we significantly reduce the levels of harmful chemicals.

“Therefore, products that do not combust tobacco are less harmful than smoking and people need to know this, so they can choose better alternatives if they don’t quit smoking. It is the duty of government, industry and society to ensure that smokers have access to less harmful nicotine products. It is unethical for us to deprive people of alternatives that are less harmful to their health and tobacco is no exception.”

Rosheda Muller, National President of SAITA, said: “We welcome smokers moving to less harmful products, and believe it is essential that these products, including heated tobacco, e-cigarettes and snus, are both accessible and affordable for informal traders and our customers.  We want to play a part in helping smokers make better choices, but if tobacco regulations do not enable them to understand why these products are better than cigarettes, and if they cannot access these products at prices that they can afford, our efforts will be in vain.”

SAITA is consequently calling on all manufacturers of these products and the government, to address accessibility and affordability of these products for informal traders and their customers, as well as creating policies that help smokers understand how these products are better for them than smoking.

Letlape asserted that South Africa’s approach to regulating less harmful nicotine products should include a review of the scientific evidence and best practices from other countries that are making rapid progress in reducing smoking rates and improving the health profile of their societies by incorporating harm reduction into their tobacco control strategies.  He also spoke to the importance of affordability and differentiation between traditional cigarettes and reduced-harm products.

“As a health measure, we need to ensure that there are alternatives to combustible cigarettes that are also affordable.  If we get this right, people will be able to switch to better alternatives.  Price should not be a barrier to switching.  This includes creating favourable tax regimes so that harm reduction products are priced competitively to cigarettes.  There must also be a clear regulatory differentiation between reduced-harm products and cigarettes.  They are not the same thing, and therefore need to be regulated and taxed differently.”

Letlape compared tobacco harm reduction to South Africa’s approach to addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic, explaining that it was not possible to get people to abstain from having sex, and so it was critical to promote the use of condoms instead.  “We educated people on responsible sexual behaviour and promoted treatment to reduce harm. If we did not, we would have had millions of preventable deaths in our society. It is the same with tobacco harm reduction – quit smoking, but if you can’t, then change to a less harmful alternative.”

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