Government last week summoned cigarette manufacturing companies to a meeting amid divisions in the industry concerning British American Tobacco (BAT) Zimbabwe’s approach to the enforcement of a law governing the sale of cigarettes in the country.
Sources told businessdigest this week representatives of all cigarette that manufacturing companies attended a meeting at the offices of the Ministry of Health last Friday chaired by Health secretary Gerald Gwinji to clarify the enforcement of Statutory Instrument 264 (2002).
SI 264 (2002) governs the sale and marketing of tobacco and tobacco related products. Among other things, it outlines the rules and regulations guiding the sale of cigarettes, packaging required and health warnings.
Top BAT, Savanna Tobacco, Fodya, GDT, and Olomide officials attended the meeting.
BAT MD Lovemore Manatsa however did not attend.
According to sources BAT’s, bone of contention was the ZRP’s enforcement of SI 264 (2002), which the company feels is wrong, a charge ZRP denied at the meeting.
BAT, according to the sources, queried what the officials viewed as wrongful application of the law on its imported Dunhill product, which does not bear Zimbabwean health warnings. Incidentally, all cigarette exports in South Africa are required by law to carry specifically South African health warnings.
BAT’s Dunhill brand was last month taken off the shelves in major retail chains after it was found to be non-compliant with SI 264 (2002).
The Dunhill packs and dispensers carry South African health warnings, which are considered to be illegal under the legal instrument.
BAT is using a South African health warning which reads: “Warning: Smoking Can Kill You”, among others that are used in the South African tobacco industry.
According to SI 264 (2002), cigarette manufacturers have to use the mandatory Zimbabwean health warning which reads: “Danger: Smoking Is Harmful to Health.”
BAT, according to sources, argued it was not necessary to have the Zimbabwean health warning, but an “appropriate” warning that serves the same purpose in with the statutory meeting.
However, a ZRP official at the meeting said the police would continue to enforce SI 264 (2002) without fear or favour, urging all players in the sector to comply or face prosecution.
BAT spokesperson Shingai Koti said: “BAT Zimbabwe commends the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare for its continued willingness to dialogue with all stakeholders on this matter. Our view is that BAT Zimbabwe products are fully compliant with the Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations, Statutory Instrument 264 of 2002. We continue to engage amicably with the relevant authorities, including the Zimbabwe Republic Police to this end, and have not determined or initiated any course of action.”
BAT feels section 9 of SI 264 (2002) is not specific about the health warning imported brands must carry.
Section 9 of SI 264 2002 reads: “All imported tobacco products shall carry appropriate health messages in English.”
According to sources, BAT officials at the meeting said they would seek legal recourse to challenge ZRP’s interpretation of the law. But representatives of other manufacturing companies took issue with this stance, accusing BAT of reneging on previously agreed industry positions, a development they felt amounted to abuse of its dominant position in the market.
“For instance, it was pointed out that BAT had had a hand in crafting the law in its current form, but never made any effort to comply with it,” a source who attended the meeting said.
Gwinji, according to the sources, said his ministry was only responsible for promulgating the law and could not assume responsibility for its enforcement.
At the close of the meeting, BAT officials are said to have made enquiries about the progress on the implementation of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), to which Gwinji said government was yet to accede to the framework.
Police spokesperson Charity Charamba had not responded to enquiries at the time of going to press.