Cape Town – Government said it is determined to tighten its tobacco laws that will see plain packaging on cigarette products as part of a global drive to lower the incentive for people to smoke.
On Tuesday, which is World No-Tobacco Day, the health department said it plans to strengthen the Tobacco Products Control Act to fall in line with World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
This follows the 2009 law banning smoking in public spaces.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said he plans to toughen the act's stance on public smoking, ban the selling of cigarettes at shop counters, ban cigarette dispensers and force companies to package their products in brown paper with no branding whatsoever.
Motsoaledi told SABC on Tuesday that the 2009 law reduced smoking from 25% to 17%. “It is definitely working,” he said. “Many South Africans will tell you they appreciate the clean air.”
However, 44 000 South Africans still die every year as a result of smoking and Motsoaledi said the habit has “no place in modern life”.
Motsoaledi said South Africa has been overtaken on its hard stance on smoking, with the UK, Ireland, Australia and France all banning branded packaging. New Zealand announced on Tuesday that it would follow suit to fall in line with WHO recommendations.
“We have been overtaken,” said Motsoaledi, revealing his determination to bring South Africa back in line with global trends.
“Public smoking should not be (allowed) in hospitals at all,” he said. “At OR Tambo, you move through clouds of smoke when you leave the building.”
That’s why he wants to increase the distance that people can smoke in public space.
Regarding “subtle advertising” at shop counters, he said “we will deal with that”.
“They must go hide the cigarettes somewhere else,” he said. “They must not put it on open counters. Dispensers must also go.”
He said all cigarettes must be in one brown package with graphics that show the damage they can cause. “No branding, no logos, no colours.”
In addition, he said they would also tackle e-cigarettes.
“We are looking at it very carefully,” he said, explaining that at the last WHO conference a decision was made to package e-cigarettes like any other cigarette.
“Some have nicotine and are just as bad as normal cigarettes,” he said. “It introduces people to tobacco.”
Motsoaledi’s spokesperson Joe Maila told Fin24 that the department is considering the right time to propose amendments to the law, but warned that 2016 is a short year in Parliament due to the local government elections.
Maila said tobacco companies cite job losses when arguing against stricter laws, but this is wrong.
“You don’t have to give people unhealthy things because it creates jobs,” he said, adding other ways should be found to create jobs.
He said there could be a great deal of resistance to the new laws and government could even be taken to court. “It’s not an easy ride, but we are prepared to take it,” he said. “Prevention is better than cure.”