Big divide over South Africa’s new smoking laws

 ·23 Oct 2023

The Portfolio Committee on Health has held more public hearings on the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill in Mpumalanga, with opinions on the bill again coming in mixed.

The Bill, which has been met with vehement opposition from those within the tobacco industry, broadly aims to introduce the following:

  • 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; and

  • The regulation and control of electronic nicotine delivery systems and no nicotine delivery systems.

Over this last weekend, the Committee held three public hearings in Mpumalanga in Mbombela, the Gert Sibande District and Emalahleni.

Although there were several similarities between the hearings in Limpopo and the North West, the public hearings in Mpumalanga, especially Mbombela, further engaged with a central issue of the New Bill – the population’s physical health vs the economy’s financial health.

Health vs profits

The majority of those in Mbombela said that the current benefits received from the tobacco industry will be enhanced through the gains from regulated production, sale and consumption of products outlined in the Bill.

“A potential in the Bill to improve the health levels of South Africans was identified by most participants, and their support for the Bill hinged on that potential,” the Committee’s chairperson Kenneth Jacobs said.

Furthermore, they said that guaranteed sustainable productivity levels would depend on a healthy nation. A strong view was expressed that the Bill is long overdue and its implementation must be fast-tracked.”

Several participants also said that the argument that the Bill will affect downstream industries, including farmers and advertisers, was a myth aimed at trying to stop the government from introducing the Bill.

They said that the Bill is not a ban on the industry but rather provides the necessary regulation to ensure that consumption of tobacco products is reduced.

They further argued that the ban on advertising of tobacco products has been in place for several years, with the Bill meant to address their inefficiencies.

However, there were still economic concerns over the Bill, with other participants in Mbombela arguing that the new regulations would grow the illicit cigarette trade.

They argued that this would reduce the amount of tax revenue SARS is able to collect.

Informal traders were also concerned that the Bill would criminalise them and force them to shut down their businesses – their only source of income.

Others argued that the Bill will result in 29,000 job losses at a time when the country’s unemployment rate stands above 30%, with representatives of farmers claiming that the Bill will ultimately close down tobacco farms.

In Emalahleni, opponents to the Bill argued that the contribution of tobacco to the province’s GDP is over R80 million per annum. They said that the potential new laws could seriously impact that contribution and have a serious impact on the province’s finances.

However, in Gert Sibande, participants who supported the Bill expressed concerns over the burden of disease on South Africa’s healthcare system due to the use of tobacco. They argued that research is key in showing the harmful side effects of tobacco on citizens.

In previous public hearings in the North West, supporters argued that the tax collection revenues from the tobacco industry were minimal compared to the R42 billion that the Department of Health spends on tobacco-related health problems.

Read: Final warning for 2023 tax returns in South Africa

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter