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Outrage as KZN Tobacco Bill public hearings still not finalised

Publish Date:

March 8, 2024

South Africa’s leading public health and community organisations, united as Protect our Next, are expressing outrage over the lack of confirmation of public hearings for the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill in KwaZulu-Natal, one of the last two remaining provinces yet to have consultations. Originally due to take place in December, new dates have not been confirmed. In the South African environment where there is strong tobacco industry interference, the organisations question why vital consultations necessary for the Bill’s progression to law are not being expedited in this province.

Lesego Mateme of the South African Tobacco-Free Youth Forum says it is time for decisive and assertive action to protect South Africa’s citizens from the harmful effects of tobacco and e-cigarette use. “We call on the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health to complete the process it started and finalise the KZN Tobacco Bill public hearings before April. Our communities and our youth deserve better, and we will not rest until this critical legislation is passed. Having just returned from COP10, I can tell you that South Africa, which used to be a leader in tobacco control, is lagging on the world’s stage and across Africa. Several countries in Africa have passed more updated and stronger legislation aligned with our FCTC commitments.”

“The support across seven provinces to date for this vital tobacco control legislation underlines the urgency of completing these final consultations so the Bill can progress,” says public health policy expert and the convenor of Protect our Next, Zanele Mthembu. “We know the tobacco industry is well-versed on levers to delay the Bill, and we hope it is not being allowed to interfere with this process and influence the pace of public health progress. Five years is long enough! Every year we delay, more people die and tobacco costs our economy billions in lost productivity and medical costs. A sick nation is a poor nation.”

Overall, the bill is a vital measure in the fight against non-communicable diseases in South Africa, and its economic and public health benefits cannot be overstated, explains Dr Sharon Nyatsanza, Deputy Director of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS). Therefore, it is crucial to ensure the continued progress of this legislation, ensuring that all provinces, including KZN, have their say.

“The aim of this legislation is to reduce the consumption of tobacco and e-cigarettes, thereby safeguarding public health, particularly the well-being of future generations. However, this well-considered legislation is meeting strong resistance from the tobacco industry for self-serving reasons, as expected. They attempt to sow discord by propagating several false narratives, including the notion of a complete ban on e-cigarettes or tobacco products and the imposition of harsh penalties such as imprisonment for smokers.”

The industry also exaggerates the negative economic impact of the bill, such as job losses, according to Nyatsanza. “The Bill will in fact be good for the economy and is essential for the implementation of National Health Insurance. A decrease in spending on tobacco often correlates with increased spending on other goods and services, driving job creation in other sectors.”

There has been notable public endorsement for smoke-free zones, with citizens recognising their importance in protecting non-smokers. Additionally, clauses in the bill around the regulation of advertising, electronic delivery systems, and the introduction of standardised packaging have all received strong support, says Nyatsanza.

“It’s time for the citizens of Kwa-Zulu Natal, our second most populated province, to have an opportunity to add their voice,” she concludes. “As civil society, we are extremely concerned that these important consultations have not yet happened. It’s time to quit stalling and save lives.”

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