Portfolio committee on health set to kick off public hearings into smoking bill

A man passes a cigarette to another while smoking as they sit on a pavement along a road in New Delhi, India, August 18, 2015. Bulging sacks of letters gathering dust at India's health ministry are the latest obstacle to a push for tougher laws to curb smoking, as more than 100,000 unread messages from members of the public overwhelm officials and stall legislation. Picture taken August 18, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

A man passes a cigarette to another while smoking as they sit on a pavement along a road in New Delhi, India, August 18, 2015. Bulging sacks of letters gathering dust at India's health ministry are the latest obstacle to a push for tougher laws to curb smoking, as more than 100,000 unread messages from members of the public overwhelm officials and stall legislation. Picture taken August 18, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Published Aug 19, 2023

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Johannesburg - Public hearings on the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill will this weekend be held by the portfolio committee on health.

The gatherings will be held in a bid to encourage South Africans to make their opinions heard regarding the controversial bill, with the North West being the first province to host the nationwide hearings.

The Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill seeks to provide legislative and policy changes. These changes include determining indoor public places and certain outdoor areas to be 100% smoke-free; banning the sale of cigarettes through vending machines and cigarette boxes required to have plain packaging with graphic health warnings and pictorials.

Other changes include a total ban on display at point-of-sale; as well as the regulation and control of electronic nicotine delivery systems and no nicotine delivery systems.

According to reports, in regards to acknowledging court rulings that highlighted problems with public involvement in creating laws, the committee said that Parliament and the legislative sector in its totality were dedicated to improving this constitutional requirement, which was also a constitutional responsibility of Parliament.

Kenneth Jacobs, the chairperson of the committee, was quoted in Business Report as saying: “The hearings are in line with Chapter 59 (1) of South Africa’s Constitution, which compels the National Assembly to facilitate public involvement in the legislative process. Furthermore, the legislative sector adopted a public participation model that places public consultation at the centre of its business.”

In addition, the committee will also hold public hearings during the week and weekends to ensure that stakeholders, organisations and individuals are given enough opportunity to participate, the report added.

Jacobs was quoted as saying: “In trying to ensure the existence of a favourable atmosphere for a meaningful public participation process, we decided to hold hearings at times and days which will afford interested individuals and stakeholders a reasonable opportunity to participate. We are ready to listen.”

The hearings will be held in two or three districts per province to ensure that enough residents can give input.

Meanwhile, the closing date for written submissions on the bill was also extended by the committee, from Friday, August 4, 2023, to Monday, September 4, 2023.

The Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill has been met with widespread criticism from those in the industry. Some of these grievances were reflected in a Clippa Sales and Casa Tabacs survey which revealed that 200 specialist tobacconists in South Africa did not support the bill.

Clippa’s Alex Jacovides told Business Report: “While the Tobacco Bill creates significant trouble for all tobacco products retailers, it is clear from the research into specialist tobacconists that proposing a total ban on displaying the only products they sell in their stores is an existential risk to their businesses. These are legal products that are only sold, by law, to those over the age of 18.”

In addition, the survey added that 98% of respondents said that they did not support the display ban, while 99.5% said that it would be detrimental to their business and affect employment.

Those in the tobacco industry also warned that implementing the display ban would result in the closure of business.

Another point of contention was that the bill also prescribes a 10-year prison sentence and/or a fine for displaying cigarettes on the counter, even if this was not done purposelessly and the Clippa Sales and Casa Tabacs survey found that 99.5% of respondents said that this punishment was excessive.

Other concerns listed in the survey was that the ban on displaying tobacco products would result in a spike in sales in the illicit tobacco industry, similar to what happened during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Respondents also flagged the use of standardised or plain packaging in the bill, which would make all cigarettes and related products look similar.