The Portfolio Committee on Health has hosted the first in-person public hearings on the new Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill, with the public expressing mixed sentiments over the proposed changes.
The proposed laws have received widespread condemnation from industry experts, with many warning that they will fail in improving the health of South Africans whilst also growing the illicit market, which would see the country lose billions in tax revenue.
Some of the proposed changes to the laws include:
- Indoor public places and certain outdoor areas will be determined to be 100% smoke-free;
- The sale of cigarettes through vending machines will be banned;
- Cigarette boxes will have to have plain packaging with graphic health warnings and pictorials;
- A total ban on display at point-of-sale;
- The regulation and control of electronic nicotine delivery systems and no nicotine delivery systems.
The Committee has now conducted the first public hearings in the North West, with members of the public from the province all expressing their views on the Bill.
Overall, members of the public appeared to have mixed views of the Bill, with certain clauses receiving praise, others receiving criticism, and others receiving divided opinions.
Below is a breakdown of the views and opinions presented during the public hearings:
Critics of the Bill said that it has the potential to reduce the tax collection rates in the country, as shrinking the tobacco industry will affect the overall fiscus.
However, other participants said that the Bill effectively highlights the strain that smoking puts on the healthcare system.
They argued that the tax collection from the tobacco industry is negligible compared to the R42 billion that the department says it spends on tobacco-related illnesses.
Participants said that the use of standardised packaging could prevent producers from targeting young people with bright/colourful packages, which should reduce consumption and further protect them from the harm of tobacco use.
However, some noted that the Bill will impact economic activities, such as the manufacturing of boxes and other packaging materials, which would lead to job losses in a country that desperately needs more employment.
Many warned that standardised packaging could also promote the sale of illicit and substandard tobacco products that could harm consumers.
Critics of the Bill said that the illicit tobacco trade is already a real challenge for South Africa, warning that the Bill could strengthen their foothold in the country.
They also noted the Covid-19 lockdown as an example of how overregulation can lead to increased consumption of illicit tobacco products.
In terms of positives for the Bill, the clauses on electronic delivery services were generally well received.
Participants said that vapes are targeting the youth and exposing them to unknown chemicals, with many also noting that vaping is a gateway to more harmful substances, such as drugs.
There was an overall belief that the Bill adequately deals with the regulatory loopholes for electronic delivery systems.
According to those who support the Bill, regulation is necessary to specify guidelines for the marketing, sale, testing standards, and research of vapes.
There were mixed views over the proposed criminalisation found in the Bill.
Supporters of the Bill said that more severe penalties for not following the clauses in the Bill were needed, arguing that tougher punishments are necessary to deter non-compliance and ensure adherence.
However, others argued that the fine or imprisonment for those who fail to comply with clause 4 (3) (c) – no tobacco product can be sold or imported unless it is in intact packaging – is far too harsh.
They argued that this would negatively affect traders who sell single-stick cigarettes, with criminalising them being too unfair.
There was also a common concern over the powers of the Minister.
Participants said that the Bill was not specific in several aspects, with an overwhelming call to clearly explain the scope of the Minister’s regulatory powers.