Government wants 100% smoking ban in public areas

 ·31 May 2020

South Africa’s government wants a 100% ban on smoking in public areas, with deputy health minister Joe Phaahla citing smoking as leading risk factor for death in the country.

The deputy minister said on Sunday (31 May), that the government is finalising a bill that will enforce a 100% prohibition of smoking in public areas.

The bill will also target the regulation of e-cigarettes and related products.

“Tobacco is a risk factor in coronary heart disease leading to what is commonly known as heart attacks. It causes several types of cancers, among them, lung cancer,” Phaahla said.

He said that the government is moving to identify areas that need strengthening in terms of legislation.

“We’re finalising the Tobacco Control Bill to close the gap to protect the public from harmful effects of tobacco use. We continue to identify areas that need strengthening in terms of legislation,” he said.

The current smoking law bans smoking in public places, but allows for designated smoking areas in places like bars, taverns and restaurants provided that they do not take up more than 25% of the venue.

“We want to change the 25% allowed smoking in public areas to 100% prohibition of smoking in public areas.”

The deputy minister noted that smoking among adults has reduced from 32% in 1992 to 18% in 2012, in South Africa. He said that more recent studies have shown that this number has since increased to more than 21%.

He said that tobacco kills around 20,000 people in South Africa annually.

Sunday marks World No Tobacco Day. The World Health Organisation calls for 100% smoke-free public places to protect non-smokers fully.

The deputy minister’s call comes at a time when some of the world’s largest companies are in a legal battle with the government over a current ban on the sale of tobacco during the country’s lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.

This includes the likes of British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco Inc.

The cigarette and tobacco restrictions will remain in place despite retail of all other goods – including alcohol – resumes on June 1, Bloomberg reported.

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has cited the impact on health as the main reason for the decision, while arguing that smokers may be more in need of ventilators should they be admitted to hospital with Covid-19.

BAT, which sells Peter Stuyvesant and Dunhill cigarettes and says it has a 78% share of the legal market, initiated urgent legal proceedings on Friday.

It argues that prohibition forces smokers to buy from the illegal market, deprives the state of tax revenue and threatens thousands of jobs.

Japan Tobacco, which makes the Camel and Winston brands, supports the case, as do consumer, farmer and retail groups.

“The government’s continued ban on legal tobacco sales is threatening the survival of the legal tobacco sector and the livelihoods it directly supports,” Johnny Moloto, head of external affairs for BAT’s South African unit, said in a statement.

“It has only succeeded in significantly growing a massive and nationwide illegal industry at the direct expense of law-abiding businesses, citizens and taxpayers.”

Read: Smoking helps open gateway to coronavirus infection, study shows 

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