BATSA asks High Court to torpedo tobacco law
Tobacco giant starts legal action over tobacco advertising
Tobacco giant, British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA), has asked the courts to overrule Parliament and to allow it to keep advertising cigarettes to teenagers.
The cigarette company wants the courts to torpedo the parts of the country’s tobacco control laws that protect youth from advertising campaigns designed to get them to start smoking or to smoke more. Last year, Parliament amended the Tobacco Products Control Act 1993 (the Act), to outlaw the notorious “secret smoking parties” organised by the industry. These changes to the law came into operation on August 21st.
BATSA, in an application to the North Gauteng High Court, complains that the Act stops it from communicating with adult smokers. It is asking the Court to interpret the Act so as to allow one-to one-communications between the tobacco trade and adult smokers. Such a contorted interpretation would expressly disregard the direct intentions of Parliament. Alternatively, it wants the ban on one-to-one communications declared unconstitutional, as BATSA alleges it violates their right to freedom of expression.
The company claims that one-to-one communications will allow it to pass on brand information to customers, so as to influence them to switch brands. In practice, this means that the industry will be able to use techniques known as ‘viral’, ‘buzz’ or ‘guerrilla marketing’ to target teens.
Since the early 2000’s, the cigarette companies have reportedly employed “sexy twentysomethings” and sent them with a carload of free cigarettes on a tour of the country’s pubs, universities and colleges, where they encourage youngsters to sign up for “the party scene of a lifetime”.
Free food, alcohol and cigarettes are served at the parties and entertainment is provided by hip underground bands from abroad, or local stars, including Idols contestants. The parties use various themes such as A Midsummer’s Night, a Japanese or a winter theme. The latter featured a bar made out of ice and a fake snow ramp on which South Africa’s top snowboarders performed.
The purpose of the “smoking parties” is not to convey accurate, factual information about tobacco products – the price, etc. – but to make smoking appear to be a social, cool, fun and exciting experience, and so increase sales.
Increased cigarette sales means increased death and disease.
Parliament recognised that this practice had to stop and in amending the law, specifically stated that it wished to close loopholes in the law, which allowed industry sponsored parties and events.
BATSA is asking the courts to overrule parliament and allow the very wrongs the Act was designed to fix, to continue. This is an abuse of the legal system.
BATSA has mounted similar challenges to advertising regulations in Canada, France, the UK and other nations. The courts in these countries have repeatedly rejected the industry’s arguments and ruled that given the enormous health risks and economic costs to society caused by tobacco use – and clear evidence that advertising increases tobacco sales – a ban on the promotion of tobacco products is a responsible step that can be justified in an open and democratic society.
The National Council Against Smoking believes that the freedom of teenagers to grow up healthily is more important than the freedom of the tobacco companies to market a deadly addiction. It strongly opposes BATSA’s application. An application which shows that the law is seen by tobacco companies as a hurdle to be side-stepped or undermined by whatever means possible.
Tobacco causes 44 400 deaths every year in South Africa according to the Medical Research Council.
For further information contact:
Dr Yussuf Saloojee
011 725 1514 or 076 633 5322