Johannesburg - The Free Market Foundation (FMF) has argued before the Portfolio Committee on Health in the National Assembly that the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill represents a kind of paternalism that is out of sync with South Africa’s constitutional values.
FMF head of policy Martin van Staden points to various unconstitutional provisions throughout the tobacco bill.
These include the bill’s assignment of an open-ended and unlimited discretion to the minister of health to ban smoking and/or vaping anywhere in South Africa for no reason other than the minister considers it “appropriate" to do so.
"What a politician subjectively regards as ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’ should be of no concern to ordinary South Africans or businesses. The rule of law is meant to protect us from such arbitrary whims," said Van Staden.
The bill additionally proposes to prohibit people from smoking in their own houses if they work from home, as there will be a ban on smoking in a private dwelling if that dwelling is used as a workplace.
Van Staden said that in the constitutional democratic dispensation, the government was not conceived of as a parental figure that must "care for" and "raise" its perpetual minor subjects.
"Instead, the government is an agent service provider, and legal subjects are its principal. As such, what legal subjects voluntarily decide to consume is no business of the government. It is a fundamental liberty of the individual to be allowed to decide for themselves what lifestyle they wish to live, which includes whether or not they will smoke or vape," he said.
Meanwhile, tobacco producers Philip Morris South Africa (PMSA) say the proposed bill is a lost opportunity to make adult smokers aware of smoke-free alternatives.
Managing Director at Philip Morris South Africa, Branislav Bibic, said that the bill's agenda since 2018, if passed in its current form, missed a huge opportunity to encourage all adult South Africans who would otherwise continue smoking to switch to smoke-free alternatives.
"While we support the government’s intentions to combat tobacco prevalence and youth uptake in South Africa, we would welcome a discussion with regulators on how to best facilitate suitable access to these products within a reasonable regulatory framework at this time," he said.
Bibic said there was a need for the right regulatory framework, encouragement, support from civil society, and the full embrace of science before any decisions were made.
"The bill in its current form prevents the access of South African smokers to scientifically substantiated products that are an alternative to smoking cigarettes," Bibic said.
He added that regulation and support for alternatives to smoking had been shown to be successful in other countries like Japan, Sweden, and Switzerland.
By providing consumers with science-based information about better alternatives, we could accelerate the decline in smoking rates, helping to end the use of cigarettes once and for all, he said.