Mandela, South Africa and tobacco control – are we upholding his legacy?

WORLD NO TOBACCO DAY – Tobacco is not just a threat to health, it threatens the environment
July 25, 2022

Mandela, South Africa and tobacco control – are we upholding his legacy?

Protect our Next Partners: National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), the Heart and Stroke Foundation South
Africa (HSFSA), the Cancer Association of South Africa and South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)

In May 1992, the then President of the ANC, Nelson Mandela, marked World No Tobacco Day with a powerful
speech, calling on all elements of society to unite behind building a world in which no one smokes, chews or
sniffs tobacco.  Lead by Mandela, South Africa began to show political will and action in tobacco control,
leading Africa in implementing progressive legislation.  As we consider Mandela’s legacy every July, let us not
forget his leadership in tobacco control. For the sake of our national health and our economy, we must uphold
this legacy.
While a smoker in his younger days, President Mandela, who had become a fervent anti-smoking lobbyist, said
he “does not allow anyone to come within 20 feet of him with a cigarette.” He would also relate a story from
his prison experience. On Robben Island, inmates would pocket the cigarette butts that warders would throw
on the toilet floors, later using the tobacco to roll zols, which they would share. One day it dawned on them
what they were doing. They had been incarcerated because of their fight for dignity and human rights, yet
nicotine was making them stoop to this level. “Smoking robs you of your freedom,” Mandela concluded.
From 1994 to 1999, then Minister of Health Dr. Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma immediately set out to battle for the
hearts and lungs of the nation, with the advantage of an ANC policy that was strongly focused on tobacco
control, and with the sympathy and support of the new President. Smoking was quickly banned in the Cabinet
room of the new government, and even Vice President, F. W. de Klerk, had to smoke outside.
She proceeded to amend the 1993 Tobacco Products Control Act to ensure tighter controls, led the
implementation of the Act in 1997 and profiled tobacco-related issues, pitting herself against the well-
established and connected tobacco industry. Between 1991 and 1998 tobacco sales declined by 30% – the first
sustained decline in four decades.

Under the guidance of Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, South Africa actively participated in WHO Framework
Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) negotiations from 1999 – 2003 and continued to lead the African
continent on many fronts of tobacco control. We were the first country in Africa to ban the advertisement,
promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products in 2000, receiving the Luther L. Terry Award in 2000 for
Outstanding Leadership by a Government. The WHO FCTC treaty declaring South Africa’s intention to become
a State party to the Convention was signed on Youth Day, 16 June 2003, and was ratified by parliament in April
2005.  South Africa was one of the 40 ratifying countries required to bring the treaty into force.
In 2008, South Africa hosted the 3rd Conference of the Parties to the FCTC on behalf of the African continent
in Durban.  Between 2009 and 2019, under the leadership of Dr. Pakishe Aaron Motsoaledi,  South Africa’s

domestic legislation was once again amended to fulfil FCTC commitments. South Africa also signed the
protocol on illicit trade in tobacco products, declaring her intention to become a State Party, once the protocol
is ratified by Parliament. To date, the country has not ratified the protocol. On the 9 May 2018, the Draft
Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill (Tobacco Control Bill) was gazetted and the
receiving of public comments concluded in August 2018. However, the considered, updated legislation in the
new Bill has still not been brought before cabinet and passed into law.

In his speech in 1992, Mandela declared smoking a problem both for the individual and for society, ranking it
ranks alongside AIDS, famine and pestilence as a threat to the health of the world’s people. At that time, the
World Health Organisation’s experts estimated that tobacco killed at least three million people each year
worldwide. Mandela shared a forecast that if we do not stop smoking, the death rate may increase to ten
million in the next few decades. Most of these deaths will be in Africa and Asia. WHO statistics now reflect that
figure has already reached eight million.

Mandela appealed to different groups in society to take up the challenge of building a healthier world by not
“Women – because of cultural traditions few of you smoke. Remain non-smokers. Prize your growing
independence and do not chain yourself to cigarettes.
Children – do not start, smoking is a dirty habit, not a fashionable or grown-up one. The best sportsmen and
sportswomen do not smoke.
Advertising agencies – devote your communication skills to sell health, not ill health.
Agriculturists – use your green fingers to finding economic alternatives to tobacco growing.
Athletes, and public figures – you are role models for young people. Set an example of non-tobacco use and
publicise the fact.
Health workers – you have the duty to inform yourselves and others of the risks. Help people quit the habit,
and do so yourself if you smoke.
Journalists and the media – spread the news so that no one can claim not to know of the dangers. Find new
and exciting ways to educate people.
Politicians – my own calling. Let us as soon as we are able pass legislation aimed at ensuring the right of people
to live free from tobacco hazards
Teachers – encourage self-confidence in the child and help young people formulate values which lead to
healthy decisions. Are you setting the right example?
Tobacco farmers – start to reduce your dependence on tobacco crops.
Unions – work will be safer and healthier in an environment free from tobacco. Protect workers from air
polluted with tobacco smoke.
Health is a basic human right. Let us all work, to help everyone, everywhere, attain health. Let us build a
tobacco- free world.”

Nearly 30 years later, we still need to heed his call. United in the #Protectournext initiative, partner
organisations the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa
(HSFSA), the Cancer Association of South Africa, the South African Medical Research Council and the South
African Tobacco Free Youth Forum continue the battle for the hearts and health of South Africans, and call for
the updated Tobacco Control Bill to be passed. Every delay damages our economy, costs lives and results in
non-communicable diseases that put continued strain on our stretched health system.  It’s time to consider
and regain our will to create a tobacco-free South Africa, and take action to protect Africa from even more
death during the next decade.

Media Contact:
Tamaryn Brown
Connect Media
084 3510560 /

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