|Press Release WHA/5
18 May 1999
SOUTH AFRICAN ANTI-SMOKING LAWS TO STAY
South Africa's health minister, Dr Nkozasana Zuma, has reiterated her country's determination not to bow to pressure from the powerful South African tobacco lobby smarting under the country's tough new anti-smoking laws.
The legislation, recently signed by President Nelson Mandela, bans the advertising of tobacco products. It also bans sports and arts sponsorship by tobacco interests, the use of tobacco trade marks on other products, and smoking in public places, including the workplace.
"They (the tobacco industry) are putting a lot of pressure on us through the media, sometimes attacking me personally and trying to mobilize the trade unions against us but our position is that everybody must comply (with the anti-smoking laws)," Dr Zuma told reporters in Geneva Monday.
Addressing charges by the tobacco lobby that the new laws violate the constitutional principle of freedom of expression, she replied: " Freedom of speech is not an unlimited right; there are limitations to every right and we strongly feel that this is an area where the limitation has to be applied."
Dr Zuma also touched on the economic consequences of the legislation for South Africa where tobacco is a multi-billion Rand industry employing some 200,000 people. "We did a study on the economic implications of doing something or doing nothing about tobacco use in our country, and came to the conclusion that the economic consequences of doing nothing are much more dire," she said.
The Minister, who on Monday was honoured by the World Health Organization for her efforts to rein in the tobacco industry and control the tobacco epidemic in South Africa, said government would work with players in the tobacco industry to help them diversify into other equally profitable ventures.
With the introduction of tobacco advertising bans in South Africa, the country joins more than 22 others which have complete or near-complete advertising bans, in line with a May 1990 WHO resolution.
In another development, answering a question on South Africa's decision to allow local pharmacies to substitute generic drugs for patented ones, Dr Zuma said: "The whole idea is to reduce the cost of medicines and increase access to them by increasing the range of outlets at which medicines can be dispensed."
Under existing legislation, only medicines registered in South Africa could be imported and supplied, thus effectively barring local access to "generically equivalent" drugs which could be cheaper while at the same time containing the same active ingredients and having the same concentration and dosage as registered, patented medicines.
The "parallel importation" of drugs would make it possible for local firms -- other than those selling South African-registered drugs -- to bring in medicines of comparative quality from different foreign sources and at cheaper prices, Dr Zuma explained.
For further information, journalists can contact Samuel T. Ajibola, Public Relations, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (41 22) 917 6873. Fax (41 22) 791 4858. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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