Government’s proposal to ban all indoor smoking, to remove closed off indoor smoking sections, and to introduce outdoor smoking restrictions was designed without any recognition of the reality of township life, says the writer.
JOHANNESBURG - The Department of Health has proposed a new law, which will ban all indoor smoking, the removal of closed off indoor smoking sections, and the introduction of outdoor smoking restrictions. Quite simply, these provisions will be a disaster for thousands of black-owned taverns and related small businesses in townships. In essence, the proposed law is well intentioned but it fails to take account of township realities. 

The Eastern Cape Liquor Forum represents 20 associations and a membership that includes over 3000 licensed on-consumption taverns in the Eastern Cape Province.  These businesses each employ about 8 people, many of whom are family members. In addition, many informal traders set up food and other stalls outside the taverns, and these traders employ a number of people as well. 

We are a small voice, but we know our concerns are shared by tavern owners in townships across South Africa.

Township tavern owners are self-employed and create thousands of jobs, which are desperately needed in our historically disadvantaged areas, many of which are chronically economically depressed. These entrepreneurs provide their employees with an income to feed and clothe their families and educate their children. These are people who would otherwise have no means of income, formal or informal. They operate well-run, well-regulated and compliant businesses and contribute significantly to the economy of South Africa. 

Furthermore, taverners are an empowerment success story, being second to the SA taxi industry in terms of numbers of Black-Owned businesses. They are also small businesses, which President Ramaphosa has called out as being key to the country’s economic growth. For these reasons, it is very important to ensure that new laws which may threaten or damage this sector and jobs aren’t introduced without proper consultation or consideration of the significant impact they will have on these businesses.

Despite promises to do so, the Government has not yet consulted with township businesses and tavern owners. In our opinion, publishing a Bill for comment does not amount to real consultation. While we will also be making a formal submission to the Department, detailing our specific concerns with the new Bill, we are deeply worried that our sector and community, as directly affected parties, have not asked to be part of Government’s Socio Economic Impact Assessment, prior to the development of legislation.

In particular, we are very concerned about the removal of closed off indoor smoking areas. These are an important facility for our patrons and many of them have invested significant sums to ensure these facilities are installed so as not to be on the wrong side of the law. These smoking areas are the perfect solution as it protects both smokers and non-smokers. We want the rules for designated indoor smoking areas to remain. 

We also understand the new law has proposed smoking only be allowed a certain distance from a window, entrance or walkway. The Minister of Health hasn’t yet said what distance, but previous statements indicate a distance of between 10 and 50 metres. 

This is absurd, and indicates to us that it’s been some time since the Minister and his team have visited a township. In most townships every window, entrance or walkway is less than 10 metres away from the next window, entrance or walkway. This is another example of a government which is out of touch with the lives of its people.

Clearly, Government’s proposal was designed without any recognition of the reality of township life. 

A matter of greater concern to the government should be that the trade in illicit cigarettes is rife all across our country. Cheap illicit cigarettes make the product more accessible to young people, and at the same time, the Government loses out in billions of cigarette taxes which could be used to fix the hospitals and clinics across South Africa. We have all experienced the disaster that is our public healthcare system. We believe that Government should fix the illicit trade first before even considering further extreme legislation, which will exacerbate the illicit trade and have no success in reducing consumption of tobacco. 

Consequently, we we reject the Bill on the grounds that the Department of Health has failed to consult us prior to publishing the bill and further that the provisions of the Bill will have a disastrous effect on our members and their ability to sustain their livelihoods. Had we been consulted before, we could have advised that many clauses in the bill is simply not workable.

While we understand Government’s concerns around smoking, these proposed measures are not the solution. There is nothing wrong with the current laws. Why mess with something if it works?

Winston Hector is the President of the Eastern Cape Liquor Forum. 

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

- BUSINESS REPORT