Cape Town - Regulations to ban smoking in all public spaces, remove branding from cigarettes packs and control electronic cigarettes will be published in the next two weeks.
This is according to Department of Health director-general Precious Matsoso, who was speaking on the sidelines of the World Conference on Tobacco or Health, which opened for the first time in Africa on Wednesday.
“I had hoped they would be published this week to coincide with the conference, but they are still being discussed by the Cabinet sub-committee,” said Matsoso.
Two years ago, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi indicated that government wanted to introduce the new regulations but admitted on Wednesday that South Africa had “lagged behind” in its fight against tobacco control.
“In 2005, we compromised and allowed smoking in 25 percent of public spaces but we are going to take that space away to protect everyone,” said Motsoaledi, addressing the opening of the conference.
“We are also committed to plain packaging,” he added. “We are looking at regulating all nicotine delivery systems including electronic systems because we need to control those.
“All the signs are there that the tobacco industry is staging a fight-back after a slew of tobacco control legislation in the past two decades,” said Motsoaledi.
“They are targeting young people in Africa. In the US, they are targeting African American people, the homeless and mentally ill. They are targeting young, working class and the most vulnerable people. We need activism against this onslaught.”
The tobacco industry and the food industry used job creation to defend themselves against government regulation “but are we creating these jobs for corpses?” asked Motsoaledi.
Meanwhile, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that Africa was “ground zero” for tobacco companies, who had identified it as a major growth market.
But, said Tedros, six out of 10 people in the world were now protected by some of the measures developed by the WHO against smoking, and that eight African countries had introduced picture warnings of he effects of smoking on cigarette packs.
Tedros appealed to all governments not to co-operate with the tobacco industry, including the recently formed Foundation for a Smoke-free World, financed by Marlboro manufacturer Philip Morris, and headed by former WHO official Derek Yach.
Billionaire philanthropist and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg warned that “one billion people will die this century from smoking despite our efforts”.
“The tobacco industry is doing everything to circumvent our efforts to control tobacco to sell a product that is deadly and kills the people who use it,” said Bloomberg, who has donated over $1-billion to tobacco control.
However, Bloomberg said there had been remarkable gains: “In the US, you cannot go into a restaurant and smoke. In Shanghai, the government owns the tobacco companies but it no longer allows smoking in public.”