Outcome report: UCT and NEU international roundtable discussion on tobacco control

On 22 March 2011, the Equity and Transformation Committee at the Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT organised an International Roundtable on Human Rights-based approaches to tobacco control. The results are presented here.

1. Logistical Summary

The idea underpinning this initiative was to mainstream tobacco control into the human rights, good governance and rule of law framework. The two international keynote speakers, Dr Rangita de Silva de Alwis and Prof Richard Daynard from Northeastern Law School (USA) developed these seminal initiatives around the world, with considerable success in initiating broad alliances between academics, civil society and policy makers. Dr de Silva de Alwis contacted UCT in 2010 to establish a first interest in hosting the event. Subsequently, the Transformation and Equity Committee of the Health Science Faculty under Deputy Dean Gonda Perez decided to host the suggested roundtable discussion as an event in the framework of Human Rights Day 2011.

Preparation for the event started in February 2011. Denver Hendricks and Alex Muller organized the content and logistical part. A meeting with the two international speakers took place shortly prior to the event. Print and radio media were contacted through UCT’s Media Office and invited to attend. The event was advertised to the public on UCT’s website and through posters. UCT students and faculty were invited by email. The event was accredited for CPD points in Ethics.

The roundtable discussion took place on 22 March 2011 at the Health Science Faculty, Barnard Fuller Building. In addition to the two international speakers Dr de Silva de Alwis and Prof Daynard, four South African respondents provided input lectures: Prof Leslie London (UCT School of Public Health), Prof Priscilla Reddy (MRC), Magdalene Seguin (CANSA) and Peter Ucko (National Council Against Smoking). Around 40 participants attended the discussion and included representatives from UCT, UWC, the National Department of Health, the Western Cape Department of Education and the Black Sash.

2. Content of the roundtable discussion

The discussion was chaired by Assoc. Prof Denver Hendricks (Equity and Transformation Committee) and Dr Alex Muller (School of Public Health). Prof Gonda Perez, Deputy Dean of the Health Sciences Faculty, opened the event and welcomed all participants and speakers. She stressed the importance of tobacco control for the Health Science Faculty and related memories of earlier advocacy to include this in the curriculum.

The keynote speaker, Dr Rangita de Silva de Alwis (Wellesley College and Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University, USA) introduced the previous initiatives that she has organized in many developing countries worldwide. She highlighted the importance of human rights to complement current advocacy work for tobacco control, and pointed out how especially the rights of women and children are related to and being infringed by tobacco control. Dr de Silva presented the human rights framework, notably the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child. Within these frameworks and in view of the vulnerability of women and children, advocacy for tobacco control clearly advances the realization of the rights of these discriminated groups.

Following Dr de Silva, Peter Ucko (National Council Against Smoking) presented the current legislative framework of tobacco control in South Africa and highlighted important gaps. A historical overview of anti-tobacco legislation can be found in Annex A. Peter Ucko pointed out that while smoking is banned in public, there are important gaps in the South African legislation on tobacco control, for example the neglect to force tobacco companies to lay open their financial contributions and support and a lack of accountability in sponsoring and funding.

Prof Priscilla Reddy, the next speaker, focused on research that the MRC produced on incentives to smoke and interventions to stop smoking. She spoke of the role and the importance of communities in anti-tobacco advocacy and presented a programme geared at secondary school students to advance health promotion around smoking.

Magdalene Seguin (CANSA) picked up from Prof Reddy’s argument on community involvement and presented CANSA’s community advocacy strategy. CANSA mobilizes in all 9 South African provinces, and promotes its anti-smoking advocacy by community education, education of secondary school students, inclusion of sport and media celebrities, and large awareness campaigns on grassroots level.

In his presentation, Prof Leslie London (UCT) evaluated the role that Public Health plays in the rebuttal of the often-voiced “individual right to smoke”. He introduced the analytical framework by Gostin & Mann to ascertain the superiority of the common good, public health (and anti-tobacco law) over individual’s claims to sovereignty and smoking rights. Illustrating this with excerpts of the Cape Times, he concluded that the ‘right to smoke’ was, in fact, a ‘smokescreen’.

In closing the input session, Prof Richard Daynard (Northeastern University, USA) pointed out the possibility of litigation of tobacco companies as another tool to advance tobacco control. It being a common practice in the United States, the new SA consumer protection act could be a starting point in South Africa.

The second part of the event was dedicated to identifying strategies and alliances between participants. Two discussion groups were formed, each one facilitated by two respondents. The first group examined how international human rights norms could be integrated in anti-tobacco advocacy in South Africa. The second group looked into strategies to translate academic knowledge to inform community advocacy work. The main outcomes of these groups will be presented in Part 3 of this report.

In closing, all participants voiced a feeling of motivated urgency that they gained from the discussion. Participants shared their planned next steps with each other, and established future networking opportunities.

3. Outcomes

The discussion roundtable provided a platform for various actors and stakeholders in tobacco control advocacy to interact and network with each other. It was the first event to connect academia, policy makers and community representatives. The proceedings have been audio-recorded and selected lectures will be published as podcasts on UCT’s website. Melanie Jackson (media communication) and Chris Mitchell (Transformation month) have covered the event in writing.

UCT together with the MRC, Western Cape Department of Education and UWC has initiated a collaboration to include tobacco control in the curriculum of secondary schools throughout the Western Cape. Within the Faculty of Health Sciences, issues around tobacco control will be expanded in the undergraduate programme, with a specific emphasis on health prevention activities. The roundtable discussion was a first point of contact and information for faculty involved in curriculum reform.

To facilitate communication between participants of the discussion, an email listserve was established through Vula, and can be reached at hrtc@vula.uct.ac.za. Currently there are 31 people ascribed to the list. Future collaboration ideas include presenting a workshop at PHASA (Public health association of SA) on tobacco control as a right, lobbying the SA government to ratify the ICESCR ratification, start research on hookah pipe smoking in the School of Public Health, and include tobacco control in a shadow country report for CEDAW. The Department of Health informed about working towards establishing South Africa as a resource centre for WHO Africa projects.

Furthermore, the two international keynote speakers, together with the UCT organizers, will be authoring a publication together, which will explore human rights-based approaches to tobacco control in South Africa.

Download the report UCT and NEU international roundtable discussion on tobacco control

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