Cape Town - Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi is widely expected to announce new measures against smoking when he opens an international tobacco control conference on Wednesday, including a ban on smoking in all public places, plain cigarette packages and gory pictorial health warnings on packs.
Over 2000 tobacco control experts from 100 countries are in Cape Town for the World Conference on Tobacco or Health, the first time that the global conference is being held in Africa.
The conference will also be opened by World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Michael Bloomberg, billionaire former mayor of New York who has donated over $1-billion to controlling tobacco.
South Africa, once a leader in tobacco control, has lagged behind in controlling tobacco products, which kill an estimated seven million people every year.
Two years ago, Motsoaledi said that he was considering laws to make all public spaces smoke-free, banning branding from tobacco packages and forcing manufacturers to put pictures of people suffering from smoking-related diseases on their packs.
No regulations have been forthcoming yet, but the health department said late last year that it would be putting forward proposals to Cabinet early this year. Cabinet met last week and it is understood that Motsoaledi outlined his proposals there.
South Africa was one of the first developing countries to impose a 50 percent excise tax on the price of cigarettes in 1994 and banned tobacco advertising in 2001.
Professor Corne van Walbeek, director of the Economics of Tobacco Control Project at the University of Cape Town, said that, between 1994 when South Africa announced the excise tax, and 2004, the retail price of cigarettes had more than doubled.
In 1994, almost one-third of people (31 percent) smoked and this dropped to less than a quarter (24 percent) by 2004.
But, warned Van Walbeek, “since 2004 South Africa’s tobacco control strategy has largely fizzled out. The 1990s passion of using excise tax as a means to reduce smoking has disappeared”.
Between 2004 and 2014, smoking decreased by four percent – to 20 percent, but the number of smokers has remained at around 7,5 million people because of population increases.
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