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The National Council Against Smoking condemns tobacco industry sponsorship of medical education

Publish Date:

May 8, 2024

Johannesburg, South Africa – The National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), a leading non-profit organisation at the forefront of tobacco control and smoking cessation efforts in South Africa, has lodged a formal complaint and initiated a significant petition to the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) against the sponsorship of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) events by Philip Morris a tobacco company, a move that NCAS argues undermines public health and contradicts existing legislation prohibiting such sponsorships.

These CPD events, which feature speakers known to be advocates for the vaping industry, have been criticised for violating current laws prohibiting tobacco industry sponsorships but also pose a serious threat to the integrity of medical education and public trust at large.

“We are alarmed by the tobacco industry’s attempts to infiltrate and influence the medical community through such sponsorships,” says Professor Lekan Ayo-Yusuf, Director of NCAS. “The involvement of Phillip Morris in CPD events facilitated by ASAIPA is a direct attack on the credibility of CPD for healthcare professionals. This seemingly intentional flouting by Philip Morris International and a private Independent Practitioner Association (IPA) of the legal prohibition placed on any sponsorship offered by tobacco companies towards any event, which in our view may include such a CPD activity for general practitioners, is of grave concern and should be immediately addressed.” 

South Africa’s national Tobacco Products Control Act stipulates that no manufacturer, importer, distributor or retailer of tobacco products shall organise, promote or contribute to any organised activity that is to take place in whole or in part in the Republic. The prohibition on sponsorship also stems from South Africa’s ratification of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and the obligations that are placed on the South African government, according to Ayo-Yusuf. “It risks South Africa being found to have violated its commitments under the Convention when it next reports to the Convention Secretariat.”

The sponsorship is in direct contravention of the World Health Organisation’s guidance released in 2023 which notes that a recommended comprehensive approach to tobacco control, which should include bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, is applicable to e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).

NCAS has mobilised a wide array of supporters from the medical, healthcare, and tobacco control communities to join in condemning PMI sponsorship of CPD events. “Our collective voice representing over ninety organisations and individuals aims to highlight the risks associated with misleading medical professionals and the public about the health implications of vaping, which is not an authorised cessation aid approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA),” says Ayo-Yusuf. “ASAIPA’s willingness to align with Phillip Morris sends a concerning message about the potential undue influence of the tobacco industry on medical practice and patient care.”

In a formal complaint to the HPCSA, the group requested the accreditation of providers offering CPD to members based on sponsorship by PMI to be reviewed until such time as the provider commits to compliance with the legal and ethical obligation not to receive sponsorship from the tobacco or related industry. It also requested HPCSA to draw up guidelines for CPD accreditors and providers to ensure there is no doubt that any entity linked to the tobacco industry should be precluded from funding any CPD activities that are registered with the HPCSA. 

“The National Council Against Smoking calls upon all individuals, healthcare professionals, and organisations who share our commitment to a healthier, tobacco- and nicotine-free society to lend their voices to this cause. Help us send a clear message that the health of our nation and the integrity of our medical education system are not for sale,” says Dr Sharon Nyatsanza, Deputy Director of NCAS. “Together, we can safeguard our healthcare community from the harmful influences of the tobacco industry and continue our progress towards a tobacco-free South Africa.”

NCAS remains steadfast in its mission to advocate for a smoke-free South Africa, working diligently to educate the public about the dangers of smoking and vaping, as well as to counteract the tobacco industry’s ongoing attempts to undermine public health initiatives.

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