Representatives from the tobacco and vaping industry held consultations with the government this week on the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems Bill, which will introduce new smoking laws for South Africa.
Approved by president Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet in 2018, the bill aims to comprehensively prohibit smoking in public places.
This includes public conveyances and workplaces, enclosed spaces where children are present, private dwellings used for certain commercial activities and such outdoor public spaces.
The bill also aims to further regulate the use, marketing and sales of e-cigarettes or vapes in South Africa, with these products currently operating in something of a legislative vacuum.
The consultations with tobacco and vaping bodies this week form part of the socio-economic impact assessment process which must be conducted before any bill can be passed into law.
Opposition to the bill
Commenting on the bill this week, the South Africa Tobacco Transformation Alliance (SATTA) said it would formally object to the draft legislation which it called a ‘sham’.
SATTA chairman Ntando Shadrack Sibisi said that more than 21,000 comments had been received when the Tobacco Bill was first published for public comment – and yet the latest version of the bill remained unchanged.
“Is the department honestly saying that none of the 21,000 comments made in 2018 were of significance or meaning?” he said.
“Or did the department not deem those comments to have merit? If so, why bother with this consultation process? It feels like a mere box-ticking exercise, and we believe that makes this process a sham.”
Sibisi also argued that it was ‘dangerous and reckless’ to consider imposing the sort of restrictions proposed in the bill at a time when the entire legal tobacco industry is currently in the intensive care unit, with massive losses in income, revenue and jobs.
The sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products were banned by the government for a large part of 2020 over fears that it could exacerbate the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The impact has been massive over the past year, and the signs of recovery are slight, if any. Our contribution to GDP declined by R3.7 billion. 35,000 jobs were lost in the industry, and 49,000 across the sector.
“It is also no secret that the government lost massive amounts of excise revenue as a result of its decision to impose a lockdown ban on sales,” he said.
Chief executive of the Vaping Products Association of South Africa (VPASA), Asanda Gcoyi, also raised concerns with the regulations around vaping or ‘heated tobacco’ products.
The bill as it stands is liable to continue the mischaracterization of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) as being equivalent to combustible tobacco, she said.
She contended that vaping is not smoking as it is combustion-free and tobacco-free and cited studies that show that vaping is significantly less harmful for individuals.
“Our point of departure as the industry is that ENDS/ENNDS and smoking are not the same. To continue as if they are would be a terrible betrayal to former smokers who have switched and those who could potentially switch if the government were to embrace this technological intake in nicotine ingestion.
“There is no shortage of science to back this point up,” she said.
Changes welcomed by WHO
The bill was welcomed by the World Health Organisation when first announced in 2018, and the organisation said that the legislation will bring South Africa back to the forefront of international tobacco control best practice.
“It has been conclusively established that designated smoking areas are ineffective in preventing harms from second-hand smoke.
“Furthermore, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control reinforces the scientific evidence that exposure to tobacco smoke causes death, disease and disability and places an obligation on Parties to implement effective measures to provide protection from exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor public and workplaces, public transport as well as other public places,” it said.
It added that emissions from ENDS have been found to contain toxicants, metals, and other harmful and potentially harmful substances.
While there is evidence that these products generally contain lower levels of toxic substances found in cigarette smoke, there is currently insufficient independent scientific evidence to conclude that they are less harmful than conventional tobacco products as their long term health impacts are as yet unknown, it said.
“In addition to this, there is no evidence to suggest that reduced exposure to these toxic substances translates to reduced risk in humans. Accordingly, to protect public health, such products should be regulated under tobacco control laws.”