Johannesburg - Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi wants to outlaw smoking in certain public areas completely because there is no valid reason to smoke any form of cigarette.
“We want to relook the issue of having smoking areas,” he told the Saturday Star. “Can anyone tell me the wisdom of having a smoking area in a hospital? It doesn’t make sense.
“There mustn’t be a corner for smoking in South Africa.”
Dr Yussuf Saloojee, head of the National Council Against Smoking, agreed: “The current law of smoking in certain public places is not working and doesn’t enjoy public support. The vast majority of people say they want indoor public spaces that are 100 percent no-smoking. They want certain outdoor places to no longer have smoking areas, such as restaurants, railway platforms, bus stops and sports stadiums.”
Motsoaledi reiterated his commitment to outlaw the use of electronic cigarettes. “The whole thing must go.”
This was in line with commitments made at the UN Sustainable Development Goals Conference last week, where limitations on e-cigarettes to tackle non-communicable diseases were addressed.
“One way or another, we will bring the whole concept of e-cigarettes under control. We can’t exclude a total ban altogether. The whole concept of e-cigarettes is not in good taste.
“They (manufacturers) do not have good intentions. (They) frustrate the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. People are coming to us with cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, so we better stop it before it happens.”
The Tobacco Control Act was enacted to regulate the smoking of cigarettes. “What the e-cigarette sector is doing is they’re looking at loopholes – arguing that e-cigarettes are not in the act so there is nothing wrong with e-cigarettes.
“They say we can’t take them to court because e-cigarettes are not mentioned in the act. Some of these e-cigarettes have nicotine, others don’t. The sector is arguing that not all e-cigarettes contain nicotine and that we can’t put a blanket ban.
“The onus on the government is not to prove which one has nicotine and which one doesn’t. We can’t spend public money searching for that.”
Amendments to legislation could be introduced in Parliament next year.
“We’ll be chasing this very strongly,” he said.
Motsoaledi cited a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, which showed how teenagers who used e-cigarettes were three times more likely to smoke normal cigarettes.
In South Africa, the use of e-cigarettes has drawn support from unlikely quarters, including Derek Yach, head of Discovery’s Vitality Institute, who has written how they deliver nicotine to smokers without the harmful consequences of tar.
Saloojee said e-cigarette makers were “exploiting” tobacco control legislation. “You see adverts where they say they’re 95 percent safer. That’s not based on any scientific data. These kinds of false claims are irresponsible. This shows they want to sell their products and are not concerned about public health.”
South Africa had some of the best smoking legislation in the world but had fallen back on this global trend. “Ireland has no smoking indoors. People said it wouldn’t work but it has. Many countries have now gone 100 percent smoke-free, even African countries.”
The WHO has insisted e-cigarettes need to be regulated as medicines or as tobacco products. But countries such as Switzerland, Brazil and Singapore have banned their use altogether while others, including France and Canada, have regulated their use. .
In July, the Electronic Cigarette Association of South Africa met Motsoaledi to “explain our responsibilities as good corporate citizens and the steps we have already taken in terms of self-regulation and responsible practices and to enquire of the department their intentions in terms of including e-cigarettes in the amendments to the Tobacco Control Act”, said its director Graham Lindemann.
A reading of the Health Department’s view was contained in a handout he provided which describes e-cigarettes as, inter alia, a device to “promote smoking behaviour, keep smokers addicted to nicotine, and the safety of its use has not been proven”.
It’s been estimated there are 200 000 e-cigarette users in South Africa.
Nathan Smith, the spokesperson of Twisp, cited research by the University College of London that the lives of 8 million Britons could be saved every year if they switched to e-cigarettes.
“For smokers, it’s a harm- reduction strategy. It’s safer than normal cigarettes if you consider that at least 50 percent of smokers die from their habit. Now you’re forcing them to go back to cigarettes. Why would you want to remove that harm-reduction strategy?
“Twisp would ideally like to work alongside the minister to assist in positive regulation to ensure the industry adheres to safety standards and responsible trading.”
Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested e-cigarettes, which operate at high violates, emit significantly higher levels of cancer-causing formaldehyde than a burning cigarette.
Motsoaledi also said he wanted to tackle hubbly bubblies as they also contained nicotine. “Nicotine, nicotine. Nicotine. That’s our problem.”