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A number of role players have made their voices heard since the publication of smoking regulations that will ban all indoor smoking in public places and restrict smoking in many public outdoor areas.
Anti-tobacco activists have made it clear that these regulations are not aimed at punishing smokers, but rather to protect non-smokers.
Last week, various public health organisations responded to the proposed regulations that form part of the Tobacco Products Control Act.
These regulations came under attack from industry bodies, some with clear connections to the tobacco industry.
The Free Market Foundation (FMF) – which counts British American Tobacco and South Africa’s tobacco kingpin Johann Rupert as its supporters – and the Tobacco Institute of South Africa (Tisa) claimed that the regulations infringed on the rights of smokers and would have a negative economic impact on restaurants, casinos and other businesses in the hospitality industry.
Attacking the new regulations, Leon Louw of the FMF accused the government of trespassing on smokers’ constitutional rights and reducing individual autonomy.
“It is a vicious assault on other peoples choices and lifestyles… by anti-tobacco fanatics and nicotine Nazis,” Louw said.
The new regulations will effectively ban all smoking indoors and restrict outdoor smoking in all public areas. Under the new law, businesses such as restaurants or bars will not be allowed to have any smoking areas indoors or outdoors, and smoking will not be allowed at outdoor gatherings, beaches, and parks, except in designated smoking areas.
No smoking will also be allowed within 10 metres of a doorway or window.
For example, those who currently attend sports events at big stadiums opt to smoke in the passageways, offering no protection from second-hand smoke, while various studies have shown that patrons are still exposed to smoke in restaurants despite separate smoking areas.
The regulations are expected to be adopted within a few months.
At last week’s press briefing, one of the world’s foremost anti-tobacco activists, Dr Yussuf Saloojee, was unequivocal that every day millions of people in South Africa were still exposed to tobacco smoke against their will.
Official statistics paint a bleak picture with the World Health Organisation estimating that worldwide smoking kills six million people a year, of which a staggering 600 000 are non-smokers, who die from diseases caused by exposure to second-hand smoke.
“There is an old saying: having a smoking and a non-smoking area in the same air space is like having a peeing and a non-peeing area in a pool – it just doesn’t work,” quipped Salooyee, executive director of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS).
University of Pretoria academic Professor Lekan Ayo-Yusuf is clear that a 100 percent smoking ban is the only means of effectively eliminating indoor exposure to second-hand smoke.
Ayo-Yusuf, who conducted research on the air-quality of Pretoria restaurants, found high levels of second-hand tobacco smoke in non-smoking areas.
The recommended level of tobacco smoke considered safe by the WHO is 25µg/m3, but the average level of tobacco smoke at the eight restaurants studied was 304µg/m3, with levels reaching as high as 940µg/m3. This means that the levels were between 12 and almost 40 times higher than recommended.
“Separation of smokers from non-smokers, ventilation systems, air cleaning and filtration are all ineffective strategies to eliminate second-hand smoke exposure and its harmful effects,” according to Ayo-Yusuf.
Louw’s attack prompted last week’s coming together by public health organisations who know too well the impact of smoking on the health systems.
Moise Muzigaba of the Heart and Stroke Foundation points out that of course people can say that they have a right to smoke, but they have to keep in mind that “if you are sitting next to me, you are taking away my right to clean air”.
Joel Perry of the Cancer Association of South Africa agrees that it is not about the individual saying “you are restricting my right to smoke”.
“You are dealing with (the tobacco) industry, and they are engaging various role players, lobbying them to shape legislation and restrict governments from passing public health regulations all around the world,” he warned.
Impact on economy
The main objection Tisa and the FMF voiced with the new law is the supposed financial impact it would have on the hospitality industry, an objection which surfaces every time their industry is under threat. They claim that restaurants and bars would lose business if smoking was banned.
However, Professor Corné van Walbeeck of the University of Cape Town disputes this, making available evidence from South Africa and other countries, showing this is not the case: “If you listen to the hospitality and tobacco industries, one would think that all hell will break lose if the legislation is going to pass.”
In 2004, Van Walbeeck and colleagues conducted a study on how the hospitality industry was impacted by the 2001 ban on smoking in public places which allowed for enclosed smoking areas. They found that more than half (59.3 percent) of over a thousand restaurant owners interviewed in their study said that the new smoking legislation made no impact whatsoever on their revenue, and a further one in five (21.7 percent) thought it actually contributed to a rise in revenue. The remaining 19 percent felt the new regulations had a negative financial impact.
The same study also found that the new legislation was well received by non-smokers as well as smokers.
Another UCT study that scrutinised the actual turnover of restaurants for the same period found no evidence that restaurant turnover decreased after the imposition of the clean indoor air laws in 2001.
“Therefore, based on international and South African research there is no reason to believe that the proposed regulations will have a detrimental impact on the restaurant industry,” Van Walbeeck said. Saloojee argues that the proposed regulations make business sense as more than 80 percent of South Africans are non-smokers.
“People don’t go to restaurants to smoke… to cater for the majority tends to be beneficial to your business,” he said.
Tobacco’s links to the apartheid government
Health professional and the president of the South African Medical Association, Professor Mac Lukhele, points out that the health-worker body recommended bans on smoking and tobacco advertising as far back as 50 years ago.
Saloojee believes that the delay in acting was because “the apartheid government supported the tobacco industry. Rembrandt was a leading Afrikaner business group in the country.
“The apartheid government decided to support Afrikaner business at the expense of public health.
“The first Tobacco Products Control Act was only introduced 30 years after Sama asked for regulation in 1993 when the transition to democracy was happening,” said Saloojee.
So, while those in opposing the new regulations are making as much noise as possible, their message does appear to ring hollow in a world where hundreds of thousands are still dying from diseases related to their exposure to second-hand smoke.
And as Saloojee reminds us “tobacco is the only legal product that, when used according to the manufacturer’s instruction, kills the user”.
* Wilma Stassen is a health journalist at Health-e News Service focusing on cancer and tobacco-related issues.