Monday, December 16, 2013

Zambia, Zim and Malawi oppose stiffer legislation on tobacco
By Gift Chanda
Fri 01 Nov. 2013, 14:00 CAT

SOUTHERN African countries have opposed stiffer tobacco legislation to compel them to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products.

Francois van der Merwe, chief executive officer of the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (TISA), said the countries, including Zambia, are concerned at the growing trend to introduce cigarette packaging regulations that encroach on existing legal trademarks.

Ukraine and Honduras are reviving a dispute at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) challenging Australian laws that introduced the so-called "plain packaging" requirements regarding the appearance and packaging of tobacco products.

Inclusive of significant trademark restrictions, the legislation requires tobacco products to be sold in standardised, olive-green packs with large graphic health warnings on both sides of the pack.

But van der Merwe said, "Any measure that goes beyond what is necessary to educate the public about the dangers of tobacco by limiting trademarks of legal products, runs the risk of achieving many unintended consequences for years to come".

"Extreme regulations, such as standardised packs, as in Australia will make it difficult to differentiate between tobacco products and will make counterfeiting easier, leading to a further rise in illicit trade," he said.

He explained that illicit trade in tobacco products was already of considerable proportion in the Southern African region, affecting all stakeholders throughout the tobacco value chain.

"Any increase in illicit trade due to extreme regulation which is not based on evidence and science, and on which full consultation has not taken place, will have disastrous negative consequences for countries in the region," said van der Merwe.

"SADC members Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi have registered their concerns around the impact of extreme tobacco packaging legislation, with all three having notified the WTO of their interest in becoming third parties to the Ukraine dispute on tobacco plain packaging. This is on the basis of the

contribution of tobacco to their economies, a point on which they refuse to be mute participants and powerless negotiators in international forums where the outcome impacts their economies."

Plain packaging was introduced in Australia in December last year, and there has been manoeuvres by anti-smoking pressure groups to have African countries introduce the law after the big tobacco companies in Australia lost a lawsuit challenging the regulation.

Tobacco is grown in six out of 15 member states of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), including Zambia, and in all of the five tobacco growing member states, the crop is a key export earner with a significant contribution of between three to 10 per cent to the GDP of those countries.

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