New smoking laws for South Africa leave Gauteng divided

 ·27 Nov 2023

Gauteng residents have had their say on the highly controversial draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill when Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health held three public hearings in packed venues in the province.

The bill seeks to drastically shake up the South African smoking scene where (according to the South African Medical Research Council) around 29.4% of the adult population is currently using tobacco products.

Residents of the province presented contrasting views on the legislation that wants to:

  • Declare indoor public places and certain outdoor areas 100% smoke-free.
  • Ban the sale of cigarettes through vending machines.
  • Require plain packaging with graphic health warnings and pictorials.
  • Ban the display at point-of-sale.
  • Regulate and control electronic nicotine delivery systems and non-nicotine delivery systems.

Some notable objections from Gauteng residents included the classification of nicotine as a toxic substance, the worry from small-scale traders of losing a significant source of their income because of the ban, the huge dent that said legislation would have on South Africa’s tax base given the size of the industry in the country, and the subsequent boom in the illicit cigarette market following the bill.

These largely economic concerns were in line with those raised in previous public engagements in Limpopo, the North West, and Mpumulanga.

The public called on the government to rather increase their attention on the black-market tobacco scene, better educate the public about the harmful effects of nicotine, and provide a better understanding of how the bill would be effectively enforced.

The committee said that certain provisions of the bill were well received by Gauteng residents.

These include the suggestions of using plain packaging to reduce compulsive buying of tobacco products, introducing pictures on the packaging to highlight the dangers of smoking, and an outright ban on the sale of tobacco products through vending machines.

Others supported the bill, citing that it would protect non-smokers against the dangers imposed by second-hand smoke inhalation.

The committee said that it wants to introduce these changes to the country’s smoking laws “to strengthen public health protection measures, align South African tobacco control laws with the World Health Organization Framework Convention and repeal the Tobacco Control Act of 1993”.

Further public engagements will be held by the committee, resuming in January 2024 in KwaZulu-Natal.

Read: Big divide over South Africa’s new smoking laws

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