Warning over new smoking laws for South Africa

 ·4 Dec 2023

Gauteng residents are divided on the hotly contested draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill, with businesses warning that implementing the new laws will have negative consequences for the country’s township economy.

The Portfolio Committee on Health recently held three public hearings over the Bill in Gauteng, and much like the public engagement in Limpopo, the North West, and Mpumulanga, there was support and rejection of the Bill.

The Bill broadly aims to introduce the following:

  • 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.

The committee said that certain provisions of the Bill were supported by Gauteng residents, such as the introduction of pictures on the packaging to highlight the dangers of smoking, the use of plain packaging, and its potential to protect non-smokers from the dangers of second-hand smoke inhalation.

Township problems

However, others were less supportive of the Bill. This included the Gauteng Liquor Traders Association (GLTA), which represents 35,000 liquor traders in the province.

The GLTA said that the Bill can not work on the grounds that it is unworkable in the township economy, will hurt small businesses, and that affected parties have not been adequately consulted.

Regarding the township economy, the GLTA said that it is concerned by the total ban on the display of all tobacco products, a ban on vending machines and a ban on the sale of single cigarettes.

“Millions of people in our country sell single cigarettes to help put food on the table. When people visit taverns, they buy a drink and a cigarette,” Thabo Thlobelo from the GLTA said.

“They don’t want, nor can they afford a box of 20, and it is surprising that the Department of Health would advocate for that, given that it is better for people to smoke less, not more. The display ban means that if a taverner leaves a packet or even a single cigarette on the counter, the Bill says they will face a 10-year prison sentence, which is also very unfair.”

The GLTA, like many critics of the Bill, also said that it would boost the massive illicit market – that grew substantially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We all know that the Covid-19 tobacco ban opened the market to illegal brands flooding our suburbs and townships alike. The many bans in the Bill, including its proposal that all packets of cigarettes be in exactly the same packaging, with the only difference being the small name of the brand, all in the same font, is going to make it very easy for illegal products to grow their market share,” Jongikhaya Kraai, spokesperson for GLTA, said.

“Before Covid, the SAPS used to regularly visit township businesses to check if they were selling authentic or illicit products. This enforcement has stopped completely. We need to go back to the drawing board to find effective ways to manage the illicit trade without penalising responsible, hard-working traders.”

The GLTA also criticised the distance from a door or window that a person would be allowed to smoke – the prior Minister of Health said that it would be around 10 metres, arguing that it is difficult for patrons to find such a large distance in the nation’s congested townships.

In terms of vapes, the GLTA said that the Department of Health and Parliament are not contemplating the harm reduction offered by e-cigarettes and other new products by putting them in the same category as cigarettes in the Bill.

“The whole world is moving away from cigarettes, towards products that cause less harm because they do not combust. It is very unfortunate that the Government is not encouraging products that are clearly better for you than cigarettes,” Kraai said.

Read: Big changes for alcohol laws in South Africa still coming – including a push to increase the drinking age

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