Press release – FITA – for immediate release
We note yesterday’s (22 January 2020) media announcement that tobacco industry body the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (“TISA”), an organization which represented primarily foreign interests, and which misleadingly claimed to represent the entire legal tobacco sector in South Africa, has announced that “it is to wind up its operations. Its members have taken a decision to redeploy their resources to fulfil their individual strategic objectives”. We however cannot say that we are surprised by this decision given the amount of pressure from a number of sources, including the Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association (“FITA”), that the organisation found itself under of late. We are of the firm view that its members found this situation untenable.
The soon-to-be defunct association which had amongst its ranks British American Tobacco South Africa (“BATSA”), Philip Morris International (“PMI”), and Japan Tobacco International (“JTI”), so-called Big Tobacco, had over the last few years unsuccessfully tried a number of strategies to flog the proverbial dead horse after the organisation and/or its members and/or agents and/or employees of its members were implicated in conduct including but not limited to corruption, money-laundering, tax evasion, unfair trade practices, and undue influence over law enforcement officials.
These failed strategies include the release of the now infamous IPSOS Report in its many versions, and the launch of the #TakeBackTheTax campaign. We consistently cautioned the general public, government, law enforcement agencies and the media against attaching any credibility towards the aforementioned strategies as they were both designed with the intention of inter alia “targeting” FITA members, doing so by among other things securing regional and national front-page headlines, and to influence the media. It is therefore pleasing to our organisation, as representative of the smaller local manufacturers, and for many years the targets of Big Tobacco, that these strategies were rejected and not given any credence by the public at large.
That, together with FITA growing in stature and profile, meant that the narrative that was being bandied about for decades by Big Tobacco was now well past its expiry date and people were no longer reliant on the statistics and data put forward by the multinationals and were now conducting their own independent research into the industry and seeing things for what they were and not what they were being fed and led to believe for so many years.
We are at the same time aware that yesterday’s announcement will not in any way deter Big Tobacco in as far as its attempts to influence policy making bodies and law enforcement agencies as it has done historically worldwide, but we have full confidence in the respective state institutions as they have so far shown a reluctance to inter alia accept tobacco industry-related studies commissioned by Big Tobacco and designed solely for the purpose of influencing them for the commercial benefit of the multinationals. This is in line with the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and its International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project to which South Africa is a signatory.
A recent example is Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announcing that SARS is to commission its own independent into inter alia the size of the illicit trade in cigarettes. This topic has dominated talk in the media for the last number of years largely in part due to the desire of multinational tobacco companies to overstate the size of the illicit trade in order to direct the attention of law enforcement agents and the public at large via the media towards their commercial competitors.
We again wish to stress our view that if one seeks to understand the fiscal risks to the economy vis-à-vis the tobacco industry, one shouldn’t restrict their views to excise taxes and the illicit trade alone. One needs to look at the entire sector, across all tax types and along the value chain. It is only then that one will be able to determine the complete set of risks in the industry. When this was previously the approach one of the multinationals was caught with their pants down to the tune of what is believed to now be in excess of R 2 billion.
As an organisation whose members have for years been the targets of dirty tactics by Big Tobacco, yesterday’s news is welcomed given that it goes some way towards shifting the status quo and how things have been looked at over the years where the multinationals have dictated public perception.
We will however continue to demand that these very same multinationals are held to account and continue demanding answers to unlawful acts which were perpetrated against our members in the not-too-distant past. In this regard we also urge the media and the public to continue to demand answers in relation to their past misdemeanours from these large corporations, which corporations continue to yield a significant amount of power and influence.
Issued by the Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association: 23 January 2020
For queries kindly contact Monique Vogel t: 072 720 7919; e: Monique@fita.co.za