A model pulls on an electronic cigarette, File photo: John Minchillo/AP
Johannesburg - One hundred percent smoke-free public spaces. The removal of smoking areas in restaurants and clubs. Totally uniform packaging for all cigarette and vape brands, adorned with warnings and pictures of diseased organs.

The removal of all smoking advertisements, including for e-cigarettes and vapes.

These are the key propositions by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi as his department fights to amend the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Act in a bid to lower smoking rates countrywide.

Read: Vaping draws fire in war on smoking

The plans to change legislation around smoking and vaping have been in the pipeline for months, but this week the Department of Health revealed it would be submitting its plans to the cabinet early next year.

Savera Kalidan, executive director of the National Council Against Smoking, has been in consultation with the department in recent weeks, ironing out the legislation. For her and her organisation, it can’t be enforced soon enough.

According to Kalidan, the concept of “plain-packaging” has been implemented in five or six countries so far, and in Australia, it’s been proven to lower the number of smokers countrywide, as well as prevent non-smokers from picking up the habit.

If the amendments are made, all cigarette boxes will be beige, or brown, use one font to determine the brand, and have pictures of diseased organs suffering from the effects of smoking.

Also read: Smoking still a drag on country's health

“Or even the image of a man in the throws of erectile dysfunction,” said Kalidan.

It would likely apply to non-combustible cigarettes, like vapes, which would also be affected by the new legislation.

The same advertising restrictions on cigarettes would apply to vapes and e-cigs, they would no longer be sold to those under the age of 18, and they would not be usable in public spaces.

The Health Department has also called for 100% smoke-free public spaces, meaning the removal of smoking areas, and insists that smokers be at least 10m from an entrance or exit.

It’s a significant change, but Kalidan said it's fundamental to both the health and economy of South Africa.

“Each year, 34 000 South Africans die from complications related to smoking. For every R1 (health authorities) earn from tax, they are spending R2 to address smoking health and smoking-related issues,” she said.

The legislation, she said, would bring down consumption significantly, and in a developing country, a smoking rate of 1 in 5 is unacceptable.

The department agrees, and national spokesperson Popo Maja said on Friday the plan was to reduce lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases.

After the legislation has been presented to Parliament, opportunities for public commentary on the amendments will be opened, and one organisation likely to fight against it is the Free Market Foundation.

Director Leon Louw has spent years fighting against tobacco legislation, claiming it is an attack on the personal freedom of citizens, an affront to the dignity of smokers, and an infringement of consumer rights.

On Friday he described the attempts to demonise smoking and smokers as an infringement on the right to human dignity and the right to bodily integrity.

“I have the right to treat my body in an unhealthy way. It is my choice. There are many other bigger killers in the country. Obesity, Aids, alcohol. But you don’t see legislation forcing people to eat better, use condoms or prohibit fast foods.

“Why not enforce compulsory exercise, condoms, eating healthily? Because that infringes on personal freedom.”

The government had every right to encourage people to live healthier, but this was not persuasion, but rather coercion, he said.

Regarding the plain-packaging approach and ban on advertising, Louw said this infringed on a consumer’s right to information.

Attempts to contact British American Tobacco (BAT) about the proposed legislation yesterday were unsuccessful.

However, in March, when plain-packaging legislation was suggested to the company, it threatened to shut down operations in South Africa.

At the time, Joe Heshu, BAT’s head of external affairs in Southern Africa, told Business Report the new rules threatened the South African branch's financial viability.

Saturday Star