South Africa: chopper axed
Good news from South Africa. The John Rolfe surf rescue helicopter, which aggressively promoted cigarettes around the pleasant coastal resorts of South Africa, has flown its last mission (seeTobacco Control1998;7:9). Exploiting the fascination of helicopters, and the cast iron good guy image of seaside lifesaving, the chopper bearing the name of a popular local cigarette brand was often centre stage to crowds of children and adults at events in special John Rolfe “encampments”. As many as 40 company vehicles could be present, including the type of highly expensive, four wheel drive machines that every boy dreams about driving one day, as well as trailers, beer stalls, a landing pad vehicle for the helicopter, and other glossy attractions.
And of course there was the allure of the chopper itself, especially irresistible to children. The whole circus was one of the most provocative tobacco promotions ever seen in South Africa, a thorn deep in the side of the country's efforts to protect public health. Now at last the campaigners can celebrate a particularly tangible form of victory following the passing of the country's landmark tobacco control legislation. While details were awaited of the schedule for implementing the law, which includes a tobacco advertising ban, the cigarette makers must have seen the writing on the wall. Legislation works. For the South African tobacco industry, it is now a case of quitting while they are behind.