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The Department of Health’s proposal to effectively ban smoking in public may prevent South Africa from achieving desired socio-economic transformation because of the serious threat to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the hospitality industry.
This is a serious backward step, since entrepreneurship and small business have been repeatedly identified as vehicles for stimulating economic growth and jobs.
The department’s proposed new regulations under the Tobacco Products Control Act of 1993 will see an effective ban on smoking everywhere except in private homes.
They will abolish dedicated smoking areas in restaurants, bars, casinos, beaches, parks and other public places and on any ship in SA waters, and will restrict individuals from smoking within 10m of any building, walkway, window or doorway.
These more stringent nanny-state laws will rob South Africans of a little more of their freedom. They also threaten the continued existence of many establishments within the hospitality industry.
Current smoking restrictions have already cost these establishments dearly by forcing them to create enclosed smoking areas.
If the proposed legislation is approved, business owners will have to incur further expenses to disassemble them.
And, once they have done so, they will probably lose the patronage of smokers who, with their families, may well prefer to stay home rather than spend time in a venue where they are not permitted to smoke.
The loss of smoking customers could well force business owners to close down altogether.
An example of traders who will definitely be adversely affected are cigarette vendors, who have set up vending machines in many public establishments, as well as specialty cigar bars and lounges whose core business will become outlawed.
The knock-on effect that these proposed new laws could have on SA’s already dire employment figures when profits start to decline is frightening.
Over the four years following the 2004 smoking ban in Ireland, 11 percent of the country’s pubs were forced to close their doors. Scotland was similarly affected. Does the department honestly want to jeopardise the survival of thousands of vital small businesses by unnecessarily tightening already-effective anti-smoking regulations?
Apart from the proposed legislation’s impact on the hospitality sector, implications for productivity across the public and private sectors must be considered as well.
Smoking, despite carrying a heavy sin tax, is legal in SA.
Employees are entitled to smoke breaks at work, but how will productivity be affected if smokers are not allowed to smoke a cigarette near any window, door or person? How far will smokers have to walk to find a legal spot at which to get their fix? Not only will the regulations hinder productivity, but will also be, practically speaking, almost impossible to enforce in urban areas where buildings are in close proximity to each other.
The government receives attractive tax revenue from the sin tax associated with tobacco products.
Smoking is a social habit, which often goes hand-in-hand with drinking, dining and gambling.
What kind of impact will limiting the places where people can legally smoke and reducing the places where cigarettes can be sold have on the government’s tax income?
Of course, the department’s proposal aims to reduce the economic costs of smoking on health care. However, by making it practically illegal to smoke anywhere but inside one’s home, children will be exposed to a greater amount of second-hand smoke, a major concern of the department.
The next logical step would be to ban smoking altogether.
The aims of the new regulations may be to reduce the impact of smoking on society in general, but are likely to inadvertently shift the effect instead to other, possibly more vulnerable members of society.
Despite being a lifelong non-smoker and one who is vehemently against having my personal space invaded by second-hand smoke, I believe the proposed smoking ban is an infringement on the rights of individual citizens and private property owners.
It is not a government’s place to dictate the habits of its citizens so long as what they are doing is legal and does not negatively impact on others.
Adults should be allowed to choose how they want to live and be prepared for the consequences to their well-being.
* Louw is the executive director of the Free Market Foundation.