Tobacco industry raises serious concerns about proposed regulations

The proposed Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill aims to regulate the sale and advertising of tobacco products and electronic delivery systems. Picture: Pixabay

The proposed Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill aims to regulate the sale and advertising of tobacco products and electronic delivery systems. Picture: Pixabay

Published Jul 6, 2023


Tobacco industry stakeholders are unhappy about many aspects of a new proposed tobacco bill, not least that the sanctions are unlikely to be able to be enforced, and which will drive smokers to the illicit trade.

This comes after the Parliament’s portfolio committee on health invited public comments on the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill.

The stakeholders said this opens a small window of opportunity to remedy a draconian piece of legislation that threatens smokers and retailers with imprisonment for minor misdemeanours and introduces measures that are highly favourable to the illicit trade in tobacco.

According to Parliament, the aim of the bill is to regulate the sale and advertising of tobacco products and electronic delivery systems.

“It also aims to regulate the packaging and appearance of tobacco products and electronic delivery systems, and to make provision for the standardisation of their packaging, and to provide for the regulation of standards in respect to the manufacturing and export of tobacco products and electronic delivery systems,” it said.

New policy changes in the bill will also focus on legislating electronic nicotine and electronic non-nicotine delivery systems; introducing plain packaging with graphic health warnings and pictorials; introducing a total ban on display at the point of sale; introducing 100% smoke-free areas – indoor public places and certain outdoor areas; and a total ban on vending machines for tobacco products, it said.

Parliament is also reviewing the proposed anti-smoking law, which recommends a fine or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both for smoking or vaping in front of children or non-smokers, be it in a room, a car, or any public space outdoors.

The new legislation will ban cigarettes, vapes, and e-cigarettes from creating the impression that one particular tobacco product is less harmful than another, for instance, that it has “vitalising, energising, healing, rejuvenating, natural or organic properties or a flavoured taste”.

The proposed bill has come under fire from some commentators.

Founder of Vaping Saved My Life, Kurt Yeo, said removing products from being displayed as well as restricting all forms of marketing will impact the many legitimate small businesses such as independent vape shops and tobacconists, as this is their sole product offering.

“This will see many of them closing. Not only adding to the already crippling unemployment rate with employees being retrenched but reducing other economic activities and related taxes.

“It is simply naïve to believe that this will impact the smoking/vaping rates, which became evident with the 2020 tobacco and electronic cigarette sales ban. Consumers will engage with other sources to obtain their desired products.”

He said introducing plain packaging will strengthen the illicit trade of these products, as reproducing these products as per the legislative packaging standard becomes easier.

“The government hasn’t implemented regulations as stipulated by Article 15 of the WHO Framework Convention of Tobacco Control, aimed at combating the illicit tobacco trade. This in turn will further impact the collection of excises and require additional funding and effort by law enforcement agencies. The average taxpayer foots the bill,” he said.

According to Yeo, implementing fines and jail time for transgressors of the bill will place undue pressure on the already burdened law enforcement teams and judicial system.

“The question remains to what degree can these sanctions be enforced?” he said.

Meanwhile, Africa Harm Reduction Alliance (AHRA) president Kgosi Letlape said the bill was outdated, short-sighted, and unscientific and will condemn millions of South Africans to continue smoking deadly cigarettes, according to an alliance of health professionals advocating harm reduction.

“It’s been scientifically proven that modern non-combustible products, like vapes, oral nicotine pouches, and heated tobacco products, are significantly less harmful than cigarettes and are the most effective tool for helping smokers to quit.

“But the new bill does not adequately distinguish between combustible and non-combustible tobacco and nicotine products. Applying anti-tobacco policies to smoke-free nicotine alternatives is dangerously inappropriate and short-sighted. It means that many smokers who are desperate to quit, will in fact be criminalised and be prevented from making the switch that could help to save their lives,” he said.