Smokers beware: the law is coming

Tougher legislation is on the cards for smokers – and they could soon see themselves running out of public places to take their smoke breaks.

In fact, if you’re a smoker, you won’t be able to smoke in any outdoor public space, including smoking sections in restaurants, at work, your car if you have a child or more than one person inside, your townhouse complex’s common area, or any other place where children are being taught or cared for.

That is if the controversial Control of Tobacco and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill is passed.

This week the bill seemed to be an even more bitter pill to swallow for the tobacco industry – despite their protestations that they hadn’t been consulted by the health ministry and that the bill has feeble chances of working in South Africa.

The bill will be gazetted for public comment this month and the public has three months to air its views on it.

The bill proposes to control smoking through a total ban of smoking in outdoor public areas, to regulate the sale and advertising of tobacco products and electronic devices (e-cigarettes) and to regulate the packaging and appearance of tobacco products and electronic-delivery systems.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said cigarette smoking in adults causes heart disease and strokes and the global tobacco epidemic kills more than 7 million people each year, of which nearly 900 000 are non-smokers dying from breathing second-hand smoke.

Because of this the health department believes that reducing tobacco consumption would lead to reduced deaths and illness and higher productivity and economic growth.

It said reduced tobacco use and consumption would redirect expenditure from cigarettes to other household necessities.

As to how the bill’s rules would be enforced, health department spokesperson Foster Mohale said the specific legal prescriptions would be developed only once the bill was passed into law.

“The objective of the bill is to enable regulation of a total ban on smoking in indoor public places and to be able to apply that to certain outdoor public places, for example stadiums and beachfronts,” he said.

“Hospitality areas and restaurants currently are allocated 25% smoking zones indoors, meaning the proposal is to have them 100% smoke free. Specific outdoor areas will be deliberated upon when the regulations are developed and published.”

Predictably, cigarette manufacturers are not thrilled about the bill.

Francois van der Merwe, chairperson of the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa, said: “Smoking is not illegal. We have about 8 million adult smokers in the country and we already have good regulations that accommodate them and non-smokers; there is no urgency to this bill.

“The government should instead focus on addressing the growing illicit trade that takes away R5 billion a year from the economy.”

Van der Merwe said the proposed plain packaging and banning of cigarette displays would affect cigarette brands’ ability to compete, confuse the consumer and make illegal cigarettes harder to spot.

“We agree that tobacco is harmful but the regulations should work for the country ... not cut and paste regulations from Europe,” he said.

The current Tobacco Products Control Act, passed in 2005, allows for smoking in 25% of indoor areas and for cigarette-vending machines to be placed in smoking areas.

But, the department said, the vending machines’ accessibility threatens under-18s who could be tempted to pick up the habit. Also, the current act doesn’t allow for plain packaging or pictorials that show smoking’s harmful effects in organs such as the lungs. It contends that plain packing or pictorials with graphics and health warnings would help make cigarettes less appealing.

Sinenhlanhla Mnguni, chairperson of the Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) which represents eight local tobacco producers, said although the bill would harm its members, “Fita commends certain aspects of the health ministry’s logic and welcomes that much of it cannot be faulted”.

“We hope these measures will be introduced after full consultation with all industry role players and not just those big companies.”

Uthman Kitaka, originally from Uganda

It’s quite tricky, this bill. We are already used to smoking and we come outside our places of work to corners to come and smoke. Yes, smoking in public areas is bad, maybe the government should take lessons from Kenya. There, there are ‘smoking joints’ in the streets where people can smoke. They are very strict that side, you can’t walk and smoke. If you want to smoke in public, you have to find one of those areas designated on the streets for smokers. And those joints are covered. I’ve thought of quitting but every time I try, I fail. I currently smoke 10-15 cigarettes a day.

Megan Wheatley, Johannesburg

We’re basically being cast away. I already hate the dingy smoking areas in restaurants and I usually go and smoke outside rather. I don’t see why we can’t smoke outside. I know it’s a public space but where else can we smoke? We can’t even smoke in parking lots so we have to walk far away to smoke as it is. I was in Greece recently and there you can smoke anywhere. I don’t think this bill will deter people. If you want to smoke you will find a way and no smoking laws will stop you.

Keegan Moses, Boksburg

I do not smoke indoors or in areas that aren’t for smoking, even now I’m outside. I think the bill is fair, people should quit smoking but, then again, it will affect people’s livelihoods such as those people selling cigarettes in the corners where we buy. I’m trying to quit for health reasons … I’m in a state of rehabilitation, by the end of the year I should have stopped smoking completely.

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