A woman lights a cigarette. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)
A woman lights a cigarette. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)

I am inclined to think the powers in charge simply hate smokers

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Jun 2, 2020

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Pretoria - As we are awaiting the much-anticipated court application next week to see whether the government’s stance on smoking will endure, I am inclined to think the powers in charge simply hate smokers.

This is even more so after I saw that the Sunday Times carried a story 25 years ago, shortly after Traditional Affairs and Co-operative Governance Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma assumed office as health minister.

A Sunday newspaper edition of June 4, 1995, reported on a story under the headline “Smokers could soon be slapped in prison”.

This sounds familiar even today, especially after Police Minister Bheki Cele recently vowed to harshly deal with those who could not prove they had legally bought their cigarettes during lockdown. Dlamini Zuma made no secret of the fact that she viewed the use of tobacco products as a severe risk for those who may fall prey to Covid-19. But 25 years ago, her department pushed for laws which would ban smoking in public as well as in prisons.

New tobacco regulations were drafted for public comment by the National Anti-smoking Lobby in the Health Department at the time. The plan was to ban smoking in an office occupied by more than one person, without the non-smoker’s written permission. According to the report in the newspaper, in open-plan offices “each non-smoker must supply written permission before smokers will be allowed to light up”.

It was proposed that restaurants had to provide at least half of their tables to non-smokers.

It was warned that those who do not comply could face a stiff fine or even jail time. This clean-up rule, it was said, could even be extended to prisons.

Not surprisingly, Correctional Services at the time commented that “this may cause some unhappiness among the prisoners”.

While governments have imposed stricter measures over time regulating smoking in public places, prisoners have been puffing away over the decades.

But it now seems that the days of smokers are numbered, as the government wants a total ban on smoking in public areas. Deputy Minister of Health Joe Phaahla announced that the government was finalising a bill which would see a 100% prohibition of smoking in public places.

While this issue is debatable, it still stands that people are allowed to smoke in their own homes, if they so choose. But as things now stand, no one may buy any tobacco products. And it is uncertain how long this will continue, especially if the government has its way. It will, however, have to fully legally motivate this ban pretty soon, as the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association is meeting the government in court next Tuesday.

Users of a group calling itself Smokes Unite One - a Facebook group which consists of 289000 members - are planning on joining the proceedings if the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, gives them the thumbs-up.

The government, which is due to file its opposing papers this week, wanted the matter to only be heard later in June, or even July, as it believed the issue “not to be urgent”.

And then, of course, there is the Western Cape High Court challenge by British American Tobacco South Africa, joined by Japan Tobacco International.

Meanwhile, Treasury is losing R35million in excise taxes every day that the ban continues. It will be interesting to hear government's arguments before the full Bench of three judges next week, a case where government's legal bill will be footed by the smoking as well as the non-smoking taxpayer.

* For the latest on the Covid-19 outbreak, visit IOL's  #Coronavirus trend page.
** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or visit sacoronavirus.co.za

Pretoria News

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