Smokers a declining species

2009-10-31 00:00

“YOU don’t need a four-pound hammer to kill a mouse.”

This is how a legal expert expressed his displeasure at government’s proposed tobacco legislation more than a decade ago.

In evidence given at the the time, interest groups questioned whether the Bill was constitutional. Individuals’ “constitutional right” to smoke and tobacco companies’ right to freedom of speech were cited, but the government remained adamant.

A spokesman for the Free Market Foundation said the legislation could be compared to the “extreme and obsessive laws enforced by the Nazis”.

He said it wasn’t the state’s duty to prescribe how people should live.

Others believed the police should rather be putting their efforts into catching real criminals.

Today most work and public areas are smoke-free.

But is this really due to the government’s policing of anti-smoking legislation?

Even Peter Ucko, veteran anti-smoking activist, believes it is due, rather, to self-policing.

Non-smokers — the majority of people — welcomed the legislation and do not hesitate to complain when they catch a whiff of tobacco where it isn’t supposed to be.

The massive decrease in the number of smokers in the country also appears to have more to do with cigarette prices than with the smoking restrictions.

In the August 2007 issue of the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ) local researchers wrote that tobacco legislation that came into effect in 1999, together with sharp hikes in import duties on cigarettes, led to a drop in cigarette smoking from 1 650 per person per annum in the 1980s to 800.

The higher taxes pushed the cigarette price up from R2,55 a pack in 1993 to R12,50 in 2005. Today a pack costs between R23,50 and R30.

Between 1995 and 2006 the total percentage of smokers in the country dropped from about 30% to 22%.

The government published further legislation in the Government Gazette on August 21, which is aimed particularly at protecting children.

Motorists are banned from smoking in vehicles carrying children under 12 years of age.

Parents are prohibited from taking their babies into the smoking areas of restaurants, and no one is allowed to smoke in a house used as a crèche.

Sweets or toys that look like cigarettes are also banned.

None of this legislation reaches their parents’ homes — which is where children are most exposed to harm from passive smoking.

An early study in Cape Town showed that 80% of children between 6 and 11 were exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke.

Researchers tested the levels of cotinine, a metabolite, or by-product, of nicotine, in their urine.

Researchers believe that a ban on smoking in public areas in the U.S. could be preventing 100 000 to 250 000 heart attacks a year.

According to the SAMJ article, smoking caused between 41 632 and 46 656 deaths (between eight and nine percent) in 2000.

There are enormous differences in smoking habits between groups. In 1998, 33,9% of black men smoked and only 4,2% of black women.

A total of 57% coloured men and 40% of coloured women, and 33,4% of white men and 23,2% of white women, smoked at the time.

Dr Yussuf Saloojee, the head of the NCAS, writes in Chronic Diseases of Lifestyle in South Africa since 1995-2005 that the ban on tobacco advertising since 2001 may have contributed to less smoking among children.

Studies in 1999 and 2002 found that the number of children in grade 8 to 10 who had never smoked had increased from 53,3% to 62,4%. The number of regular smokers had dropped from 10,1% to 5,8%.

Two-thirds said they buy their cigarettes in shops, even though it is illegal to sell cigarettes to minors.

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