Over restriction of access to tobacco could have a significant impact on and could cause as yet unquantified damage to the economy, speakers at a media briefing organised by the Free Market Foundation (FMF) said yesterday.
Chris Hart, the chief economist at Investment Solutions, said investments that had been made to comply with the requirements of the Tobacco Control Act to make premises suitable would be neutered. “The minister says personal choice must have certain consequences. Individual risk must sit with the individual and must not be generalised,” he said.
The discussion follows Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s intention to enforce strict anti-smoking laws.
Last month, the Department of Health issued proposed regulations on smoking in public and certain outdoor places, imposing serious restrictions on the rights of individuals, employers and property owners.
Hart said almost R122 billion was spent on the health budget. Already the fiscus was taking about 52 percent of the retail price of cigarettes.
He said agriculture and agri-processing, including tobacco, contributed 2 percent to 3 percent to the gross domestic product. However, strict anti-smoking regulations would contribute to the cost of crime.
“CEE (criminal economic empowerment) costs the fiscus about R3 billion in smuggled cigarettes. The regulations will create an incentive and illicit channels that empower criminals. If you cut down the cost of smoking, you could resolve the problem,” Hart said. “Should we shut down everything that could kill?”
Leon Louw, the executive director of the FMF, said: “If you allow this to happen, you have effectively opened the sluice gates. No way will the nico-nazis be satisfied. They will keep on moving the goal posts. Is that the society you want?”
The Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa submitted comments to the department, but said yesterday it had not done a survey of the financial implications on the tobacco industry if the regulations were approved.
In its submission, the institute said that although the tobacco sector supported the regulation of smoking in public places, the draft regulations were excessively restrictive.
The institute said it believed the existing regulations on smoking in public places, where they were complied with and enforced, worked well and provided for both smokers and non-smokers.
Eddy Khosa, the acting chief executive of the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa, said the hospitality industry believed the regulations would have little impact on its revenues.