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Editorial by Roi Simpson (As heard on “the Lunchtime News Wrap” 07 August 2018)

The new tobacco laws are on their way, and the public comment window closes on Women’s Day – Thursday, 8 August..

The online publication BusinessTech cites American research – specifically the American Cancer Society’s so-called ‘Tobacco Atlas‘ – to put South Africa’s smoking population at somewhere around 6-and-a-half-million.

A bit of background maths suggests that this means roughly 15% of our adult population smokes.

So, in any group of 20 people, 3 of them smoke. Out of interest, men outnumber women 5 to 1 on that – so, if that’s a group of 20 men; 6 of them are smokers.

Which makes this a big issue.

The Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa claims that number is way higher, at 8.2 million.

And here’s what the proposed new legislation will put in place:

  • Firstly, all of this now extends to all the e-cigarette and vaping systems as well. That really feels more like it’s about social control and not health science – but let’s move on.
  • No more smoking sections in restaurants, bars, malls – or any indoor covered space.
  • In fact, smokers must be at least 10 metres away from the entrance to any public building.
  • Smoking will be banned in your car if you have a child under 18 years – or more than one person inside. It’s not clear on the status if both people are smokers.
  • And the packaging will be stripped of everything except the brand name and a limited logo, and the health warnings.
  • Tobacco products won’t be on public display, and cigarette vending machines are a thing of the past.

Those are probably the big ones.

Thinking of breaking the law? Well, if you’re caught smoking in prohibited areas – get ready for a hefty fine, or up to 3 months in jail.

Here’s the REAL problem with all of this:

It needs to be policed.

The existing legislation is already routinely flouted in a number of places.

I believe that any laws which exist that aren’t enforced, and – more importantly – encourage ordinary, otherwise law-abiding people to move into a position of opposition with the law, by definition erodes the rule of law.

Is the issue an important one?

YES. The W.H.O says 7 million people die from causes directly attributable to smoking, and – worse – 900,000 of those are from secondary smoke.

According to the Tobacco Atlas, more than 42,000 South African are killed by tobacco-related diseases each year.

That’s three times the number of people who died in car crashes, and double the number of murders.

So something needs to be done.

But, according to a graph published by Trading Economics – the existing regime of taxation and legislation has only produced about a 4% drop in the prevalance of smoking in the past 16 years.

Interestingly, a UCT study found that what we HAVE achieved is a shift away from smoking being a lower-income scourge: the behavioural change has been most dramatic among the poorest sectors of the country.

So, it seems fair to ask whether the resources that are going to be thrown at enforcing the new laws might not be better used on education.

And its also fair to raise the question of whether there ARE enough resources to enforce this properly – or whether the process will just damage the status of the nation-state and the Government’s control of it.

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Public comment on the proposed legislation should be sent to lynn.moeng@health.gov.za before close of business 09 August 2018.