World No Tobacco Day: Informal traders encouraged to sell more food, not tobacco

World No Tobacco Day: Informal traders encouraged to sell more food, not tobacco

On 31 May 2023, WHO and public health champions around the world will come together to celebrate World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) under the theme – We need food, not tobacco! In support of World No Tobacco Day, health and community organisations in South Africa, united through the Protect our Next partnership, are ramping up initiatives that encourage informal traders to put more nutritious food, NOT tobacco on their tables and the tables of South Africans.

While Protect our Next has been encouraging informal food economy traders, including spaza shops, bakkie traders and hawkers, not to sell cigarettes but to focus on more nutritious food for some time, the Protect our Next Tobacco-Free Informal Traders Initiative has now been formalised and will roll out to various markets, according to Dr Sharon Nyatsanza of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS). “We are working with partners to rally informal fresh produce traders behind the campaign. They are a vital channel into townships, rural areas, and peri-urban areas. We are asking traders to put more food, not tobacco on their tables, as well as to pledge their support for South Africa’s Tobacco and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill and a tobacco-free future.”

The main activations are taking place at the Tshwane Fresh Produce Market in May and June, engaging more than 600 fresh produce vendors.  These informal traders will be educated about the dangers of tobacco and the role they can play in communities as they visit the market.  Daily prizes of purchasing card credits will be given to participating vendors, and an overall prize of a generator will be awarded.

The World No Tobacco Day theme highlights concerns around food insecurity, and the impact of tobacco, globally and in South Africa. “Tobacco harms our health, the health of farmers and the planet’s health. Tobacco takes food off our tables,” says Nyatsanza. According to a statement from the WHO, while the tobacco industry uses the issue of farmers’ livelihoods as a barrier to the implementation of strong tobacco control measures, it in fact damages livelihoods and food security. The industry creates front groups to lobby against policy changes and interferes with attempts to substitute tobacco growing, contributing to the global food crisis, the WHO says.  This year’s campaign calls for governments to develop suitable policies, strategies and enabling market conditions for tobacco-growing farmers to shift to growing sustainable food crops.

According to StatsSA, 3,7 million households (21%) experience inadequate or severely inadequate access to food. Most households lack access to adequate food to meet their dietary needs for an active and healthy lifestyle. At the same time, South Africa is deeply impacted by the health and socio-economic impacts of tobacco use, says Dr. Catherine Egbe of the South African Medical Research Council, lead investigator for the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS-SA). “We found that South African smokers spend a median amount of R263 on cigarettes each month. With limited resources, too much money is spent on feeding nicotine addictions instead of hungry tummies. Cigarettes are too easily accessed at street vendors and spaza shops. Vendors can be an important part of driving change.”

Many people in developing neighbourhoods buy from informal food traders. Nearly 60% of all fresh produce sold through South African national fresh produce markets ends up on their tables. The informal sector now employs some three million people directly and indirectly, more than the number employed in the formal food trade. “Informal traders represent the indomitable spirit, grit, and determination of many who have resolved to defy the scourge of unemployment by earning a living in the informal sector. Increased production and marketing of sustainable crops will allow these informal traders to grow their businesses, earn more income, and contribute to attaining the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2 – zero hunger.”

South Africa’s Tobacco and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill, currently before parliament, aims to further reduce tobacco use.  An important part of the campaign is educating informal traders and their customers about the measures in the Bill. Nyatsanza concludes, “We need to protect the health and well-being of farmers and traders from the harms of tobacco growing and the exploitation of their livelihoods by the tobacco industry.  We also need to protect our communities from the harms of tobacco. It’s simple, we need food, not tobacco!”