Johannesburg - New smoking laws in South Africa might seek to protect both smokers and non-smokers, but some organisations believe new legislation will result in a spike in criminal activity and millions of people going hungry.
Government and civil rights organisations stand firm in their belief that the vulnerable, including young children, need to be safeguarded against the serious and often deadly effects of tobacco and related products.
But the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (Tisa) has described the draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill as “one of the most extreme and draconian pieces of tobacco control legislation in the world”.
Tisa chairperson Francois van der Merwe told The Saturday Star this week that if passed, the draft legislation - which is currently with the Department of Health and still needs to go back to the Cabinet, after which it will be tabled in Parliament - also infringes on the freedom of choice of South Africans.
“The reality is tobacco use is legal and adults over 18 have the right to use tobacco products,” said Van der Merwe. “If the legal tobacco industry is regulated out of existence, jobs will be lost and employment in the entire value chain will be threatened.”
The draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill, which was published in May last year and has since sparked widespread public debate, proposes several new smoking laws.
These include a zero-tolerance policy on indoor smoking in public places, including the removal of designated smoking areas in restaurants.
The bill also seeks to place a ban on outdoor smoking in public places and wants smokers to be at least 10m from public entrances when consuming tobacco products outside.
The draft legislation also threatens the removal of all signage on cigarette packaging aside from the brand name and warning stickers, and would prohibit retailers from publicly displaying cigarettes.
The draft bill also wants to control electronic cigarettes which include acclaimed brands such as “Twisp” or “Vapes”.
While the effects of the draft legislation continue to be debated, leading health organisations such the World Health Organisation (WHO) has sanctioned it.
“The prohibition is in line with tobacco control best practice to protect bystanders and children from exposure to harmful second-hand tobacco product emissions,” the WHO told The Saturday Star.
It insisted that tobacco was “deadly in any form”.
“Smoked tobacco products contain over 7000 chemicals, including at least 250 chemicals known to be toxic or to cause cancer.
“Use of smokeless tobacco products can result in serious, sometimes fatal, health problems.”
The WHO said that non-smokers who might inhale tobacco products at public indoor places, workplaces and public transport hubs also faced serious health risks as a result of the second-hand smoke.
“Second-hand tobacco smoke is present in virtually all public places where smoking is permitted, and there is no safe level of exposure.
“Globally, it is estimated that about one third of adults are regularly exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke.
“Second-hand tobacco smoke is estimated to cause a million premature deaths a year worldwide.”
These sentiments were echoed by the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS) which also supports the introduction of the draft bill in South Africa.
NCAS executive director Savera Kalideen said the bill would make smokers and non-smokers more aware of the harm of tobacco consumption.
“There is no single part of the body that is not harmed by tobacco consumption,” she said.
“Smokers are at risk of developing cancers, heart disease, respiratory diseases such as emphysema and many other serious illnesses.”
Kalideen added that there was no safe level of exposure to second-hand-smoke.
“‘This is because second-hand smoke contains more than 7000 chemicals and at least 70 carcinogens.”
She said that children were also at risk of serious health complications if they were to inhale smoke emitted from tobacco products.
“In children, second-hand smoke causes sudden infant death syndrome, low birth weight, impaired lung function and respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and coughing and breathlessness.”
While the proposals of the draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill, which was first mooted in 2015, has received widespread praise from various organisations, Tisa maintains that the current regulations on smoking in public places, which accommodate both smokers and non-smokers, should remain in place.
“If these laws are enforced effectively and consistently, it will negate the need for more stringent tobacco control legislation,” said Van der Merwe.
He added that instead of changing smoking laws, more focus should be placed on education programmes about the harmful effects of smoking.
He also called for more action to be taken against the illicit trade in tobacco products which he believed was robbing the country of millions in revenue.
“No amount of regulation will assist the government in meeting its health objective of a reduction in smoking incidence if the illicit trade in tobacco products is not dealt with effectively.”
While the WHO believes that the draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill is consistent with South Africa’s obligations under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and brings South Africa back to the forefront of international tobacco control best practice, Tisa considers it to be out of touch with the country’s realities.
“The reality is that almost 80% of all cigarettes sold in SA are sold in the informal, non-organised trade, and most of these are sold as single cigarettes from open packs,” said Van der Merwe.
“The informal trade consists of thousands of small shops, spaza shops, corner cafés, hawkers, roving hawkers, table tops and street vendors.”
“Such a ban will simply either criminalise or kill thousands of small businesses in our country.”
If these new smoking laws were implemented, Van der Merwe maintained that all South Africans would be affected by issues not even related to smoking.
“If the legal tobacco industry disappears, the market will be flooded by illicit, unregulated products on which no taxes are paid.
“Government loses income, which translates into less money for service delivery, which directly impacts South African society as a whole.
“Tisa supports balanced regulation which is evidence-based, workable and enforceable and which has a chance of achieving the stated objective of reduced consumption, while allowing the tobacco sector to make its meaningful contribution to the economy.
“A policy of accommodating both smokers and non-smokers is sensible, whereas a total ban makes no sense, is impossible to enforce and will make law enforcement chase after smokers instead of focusing on real issues in our country relating to crime, which is out of control.”