In 2016, VISA wrote to the Prime Minister of Mauritius about the persistent rumours that an overseas tobacco company, known as Pacific Cigarette Company, had applied to the Board of Investment for permit to sell and manufacture cigarettes in Mauritius.
VISA strongly opposed giving authorisation to the Pacific Cigarette Company to operate in Mauritius for the following reasons:
Tobacco use is a major threat to public health
According to the World Health Organization, every year, tobacco use causes six million global deaths, accounting for 16% of all male and 7% of all female deaths. It kills more than AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, road accidents, suicide, murder and illegal drugs combined.
In Mauritius, 21.7% of adults (40.3% males and 3.7% females) smoke. Among youth aged 13-15 years, smoking prevalence is 13.7% (20.3% boys and 7.7% girls).
Furthermore, the WHO Global Report on Tobacco Attributable Mortality, released in 2011, indicates that in Mauritius tobacco use accounts for:
– 64% of deaths linked to cancer of the trachea, bronchus and lung;
– 17% of deaths linked to respiratory diseases;
– 8 % of deaths due to cardiovascular diseases;
– 7 % of deaths due to cerebrovascular diseases;
– 8 % of all deaths due to non-communicable diseases;
– 11 % of deaths among men; and
– 4 % of deaths among women.
These data provide unequivocal evidence of the extremely hazardous and deadly nature of tobacco products. Opening the local market to another tobacco company will contribute to aggravating the tobacco epidemic in Mauritius.
Mauritius will violate the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control of the World Health Organization (WHO FCTC)
Mauritius was among the first countries in the world to ratify the WHO FCTC, an international treaty signed by more than 180 countries. Ratification implies that Mauritius is a Party to the Convention and is legally bound to implement it. Article 5.3 of the treaty states: “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance to national law.” In other words, the Government of Mauritius should ensure that the promotion and protection of the health of the Mauritian population predominate when dealing with the tobacco industry.
Furthermore, Principle 1 of the Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 states: “There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.” VISA considers that if Pacific Cigarette Company is allowed to operate in Mauritius, Government will be acting in a manner that is fundamentally in conflict with the interest of public health. It will convey the impression that for national authorities, the particular interest of the tobacco industry is superior to the public interest.
Cigarette consumption will increase in Mauritius
With the existing ban on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship in Mauritius, Pacific Cigarette Company will have no alternative than rely heavily on product pricing to compete with long-established companies and their well-known brands and create a clientele of its own. The price of cigarettes not being regulated in Mauritius, the company will definitely sell its cigarettes at a cheaper price than that of its competitors. A reduction in price will have the immediate effect of increasing affordability and consumption of cigarettes, jeopardizing at the same time the gains made so far in tobacco control in Mauritius after years of struggle.A reduction of price on the local market will not only increase consumption among regular smokers but also encourage initiation among children.
Pacific cigarettes are smuggled in African countries
Cigarettes are among the most illegally trafficked goods in the world. Studies estimate that approximately 11% of the world cigarette market is illicit, representing over 600 billion cigarettes a year. It leads to vast amounts of lost revenue for governments, obstructs economic development, undermines government policies, supports corrupt practices and funds organized crimes and terrorism. There is ample evidence that tobacco companies themselves are behind the illicit trade of tobacco products.
Press reports, copies of which are attached herewith, indicate that Pacific cigarettes are smuggled on a large scale from Zimbabwe to countries like South Africa and Botswana. Below are some press excerpts on Pacific cigarettes:
- “Pacific cigarettes, has been found in concealed consignments by police in South Africa and abroad”;
- “The frequency of the busts, the methods used and the quantities of illegal Pacific cigarettes found have led sources close to the investigations to claim that Savanna has been centrally involved for at least four years.”
- “1.6 million Pacific cigarettes were found hidden on a train in Plumtree, Zimbabwe”.
- “Last October, Zimbabwean police confiscated 40 tons of Pacific cigarettes on a train destined for South Africa.”
In view of the above, VISA is seriously concerned that similar unethical commercial practices could be employed by the company in Mauritius to capture a share of the market, as has been the case in South Africa.
Pacific Cigarette Company will not bring increased revenue to government
Government revenue from tobacco products comes mainly from the taxes imposed on such products. If there will be no “cigarette consumption increasing in Mauritius”, as claimed by the Pacific Cigarette Company, VISA does not foresee any significant increase in revenue from the presence of this company on the local market. Revenue could only be achieved if government decides to further increase the tax on tobacco products.
Pacific Cigarette Company exaggerates about Increase employment in Mauritius
In all countries where tobacco companies operate, they are notorious for exaggerating on the number of people they employ, either directly or indirectly, with the sole purpose of misleading decision-makers and the public on their so-called contribution to the national economy. For example, they always include owners of shops and convenience stores/groceries, serving as tobacco retailers, on their list of part-time employees when these people are known to sell cigarettes among numerous other consumer products. VISA, therefore, seriously doubts the claim of Pacific Cigarette Company that it will create more than 100 direct and indirect employment in Mauritius.
The tobacco industry views Africa, including Mauritius, as its next big market
The tobacco industry is engaged in aggressive marketing in African, as part of a calculated strategy to increase sales and consumption of its products, at a time when tobacco consumption is decreasing in Europe, the USA, and other developed countries. By offering sale, manufacturing, and export facilities to the Pacific Cigarette Company, the Government of Mauritius is becoming a party to the strategy of the tobacco industry of increasing tobacco use in Mauritius and other African countries, leading to further tobacco-related suffering and deaths in a continent already faced with the double burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases and other social and economic problems. Mauritius has the moral responsibility of promoting the health of all Africans and protecting them from the devastating health, social, environmental, and economic consequences of tobacco use.
VISA pointed out that Mauritius is regarded as a model and leader in tobacco control by the World Health Organization and other international bodies. It was among the first countries in the world to have introduced picture warnings on cigarette packages and has a tobacco tax rate that is well above other African countries. Unfortunately, the sale and manufacture of cigarettes by the Pacific Cigarette Company will be a severe setback to our tobacco control efforts and endanger further the health of the Mauritian population. Tobacco use is a common risk factor for the four main non-communicable diseases – diabetes, high blood pressure, heart diseases, and cancer- and there is no room for complacency if we intend to address these issues vigorously and rigorously. The tobacco industry is widely considered to be the vector of the tobacco epidemic and the battle against tobacco use could only be won when government keeps a vigilant watch and proper control on the industry. Furthermore, when the trend is now set by big international investment companies to disinvest in the tobacco industry due to the lethal nature of the products it markets, it is inappropriate and unfortunate to note that the Government of Mauritius, through the Board of Investment, is encouraging the tobacco industry to invest in Mauritius. There is no shadow of doubt that the costs of such an investment in terms of tobacco-related diseases, disabilities, and deaths will soon outweigh the benefits.
In view of the above, VISA appealed to the Prime Minister to protect the health and interest of the Mauritian population and refuse authorization to the Pacific Cigarette Company to sell and manufacture cigarettes in Mauritius.
Copy of the mail was sent to:
The Minister of Finance and Economic development
The Minister of Health and Quality of Life
The Minister of Industry, Commerce and Consumer Protection
The Board of Investment