Chris Moerdyk

Tobacco regulations just smoke and mirrors

2013-10-21 08:47

Apparently government has come up with some new regulations limiting the display of tobacco products in stores.

Theses are insane regulations on the face of it because what it boils down to is that in places like supermarkets and cafes only one square metre would be allowed to be allocated to cigarettes, pipe tobacco and snuff.

And not more than 100 products can be displayed at any one time.

As this will only apply to retail outlets bigger than 15 square metres it effectively means that informal traders and spaza shops won't have to comply with the law.

Which in a nutshell, means that poor people can continue to be killed quite easily by their smoking habit whereas rich people will have to try just a little bit harder. But not much more.


The argument that the authors of these regulations are apparently using is that they have been told by a lot of ex-smokers that seeing big displays of tobacco products in stores and cafes tempts them to start smoking again.

Well, all I can say is that if government really wants to protect people with no willpower then they need to ban other people from smoking altogether because there is nothing like a whiff of tobacco in the air to make one start wanting to smoke again.

I would imagine that the incidence of people just seeing a display of cigarettes and starting to smoke again is much, much lower than those who just close their eyes when they're are having a drink and imagine how nice it was to have a smoke with their tipple.

Of course government also claims it wants to protect young people from starting to smoke. But I fail to see how a one square metre display of 100 cigarettes is going to be any more protective than a 10 square metre display of 1 000 cigarettes.

It's a bit like legalising cocaine as long as you only consume one gram at a time.

If our nanny state really wants to protect youngsters from starting smoking they need to ban those youngsters from having friends.

Smoke and mirrors

Because right now, I would bet my life that the biggest cause of kids starting to smoke is other kids smoking. Peer pressure.

Frankly, all this new regulation over smoking is just smoke and mirrors in my opinion. Government is doing nothing more than trying to look like they are taking the whole question of smoking seriously.

As with the case with banning alcohol advertising, all these new smoking regulations do is let our government show the nannyist World Health Organisation that we are trying to do something.

If government was really serious about getting people to stop smoking it would ban cigarettes cigars and pipe smoking.

Of course government won't ban smoking altogether because they make far too much money out of tobacco taxes.

At least they used to until they taxed tobacco so high it created a influx of contraband cigarettes which now amount to roughly 20% or more of the total number of cigarettes consumed in South Africa and which are a lot cheaper because consumers get about R12 gets knocked off the price of a pack of 20s because they are not having to pay tax.

They can do what they like to try and stop contraband cigarettes coming in but it won’t work. It is going to get worse.

They can ban advertising, regulate point of sale and so on until the cows come home and nothing will change.

Huge task

Just as nothing has changed with regard to curbing the use of tik, dagga and a host of hard-core drugs that are almost easier to buy in South Africa than cigarettes.

Society has a huge task ahead of it to curb alcohol, drug and tobacco abuse. But, by wasting time and effort on tokenist regulations and banning advertising is just delaying the inevitable.

- Follow Chris on Twitter.

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