The Portfolio Committee on Health continued its nationwide public hearing process for the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill over the weekend, hearing mixed views from Cape Town and Cape Winelands-based groups in Paarl on Sunday.
The meeting saw academics specialising in issues around health, healthcare consultants, workers and representatives from health and tobacco trading present, all debating the bill, which 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.
Western Cape residents 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.
Those who rejected the bill based their arguments on moral, indigenous, and economic grounds, as well as accusing a lack of effective consultations during the drafting process.
Some academics argued that there is a moral obligation to promote electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) as ‘safer’ products for adult smokers. This is because the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (one of the leading authorities on ENDS worldwide) recently authorised the sale of around 23 e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn and snus (moist oral tobacco) products.
Others rejected the bill, saying that the Department of Health had not conducted wider consultations before developing it. The groups argued that the bill in its current form is devoid of “scientific substance” and called on the department to perform in-depth research and consult as widely as possible.
They said that the department also ignored smokers on an issue about tobacco and smoking, calling it a “big mistake.”
Some voiced their concerns about the economic impact, worrying that the bill would lead to the closure of tobacco companies in the country. They argued that the bill would impact negatively on revenue collection and lead to retrenchments and unemployment.
Lastly, some voiced their opposition, citing that the bill would have a negative impact on indigenous traditions, as many traditional practices uses tobacco as a major element.
Those in favour of the bill grounded their arguments in health reasons, citing that available data of smoking-related illnesses as grounds for ‘needed’ legislative change to smoking laws.
Supporters also called for all tobacco advertisements to feature the majorly related health risks.
Others argued that the government should ban smoking in its entirety, saying that it should form part of the government’s fight against drugs.
Dr Kenneth Jacobs, the chairperson of the committee, said that they would consider the public’s views before compiling a report on the bill. It will then be submitted to the National Assembly for consideration.