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The New Tobacco Control Bill – Public Queries Answered

Publish Date:

January 24, 2024

The Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill is currently undergoing a provincial public consultation period and has sparked widespread discussion in five provinces to date. The  Cape Provinces and Kwa-Zulu Natal are next, starting with the Eastern Cape this weekend on 26-28 January.  This crucial step in the legislative process provides an opportunity for citizens to scrutinise the bill, voice their support or query any points of concern.   “These hearings present a vital opportunity for citizens to air their views and also to learn more about the Bill and what it means for public health and sustainable development in their communities,” says Dr Sharon Nyatsanza of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS).

Experts from South Africa’s leading health organisations, united through the Protect our Next initiative, say widespread support has been voiced for the key measures in the bill at the hearings to date. These measures include creating smoke-free public spaces, banning vending machines, more stringent regulation on point-of-sale advertising and regulating electronic delivery systems such as e-cigarettes for the first time.  

However, some queries are frequently raised, particularly around the sale of single cigarettes and economic impacts, the powers given to the Minister in the regulations, how the Bill will be effectively enforced, the costs to taxpayers, and what resources will be available to support quitters. Citizens also have specific queries around online sales, channels for complaints, and marijuana legislation.  Experts from Protect our Next provide clarification for these frequently asked questions below.  

Sale of single cigarettes

“Concerns are being voiced over whether the Bill will impose stricter regulations on the sale of individual cigarettes, and how this will impact hawkers and small businesses,” says Dr. Sharon Nyatsanza of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS). “Under this proposed legislation, the sale of single cigarettes will be prohibited. The aim is to prevent impulsive purchases and to make smoking less accessible, particularly for young people. It is a vital step to curtail underage smoking and smoking rates overall.”

Minister’s role in regulations

The Minister of Health will have significant powers in setting regulations pertaining to flavours, packaging, and smoke-free areas. “The purpose of these regulations will be to make tobacco products less appealing, particularly to younger consumers, and to protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke,” says Lorraine Govender of CANSA. “The regulations will be published for public comments and enable the Minister to implement the law.” 

Support for quitting smoking

The government will need to increase support for cessation aids and ways to quit smoking, says Dr Nyatsanza. This includes improvements to health services, improving access to cessation aids, and launching public education campaigns.  Those seeking help to quit smoking can call the National Quitline at  +27 11 720 3145 or WhatsApp on +27 72 766 4812 for assistance.

Online sale of tobacco products

Selling tobacco products online will be regulated under the new Bill. Selling online is not criminalised, but it does require adherence to strict guidelines. Enforcement will be carried out by relevant government agencies and will include monitoring online activity, says Nyatsanza. 

Marijuana legislation

There has been some confusion regarding marijuana in relation to this Bill. “To clarify, marijuana is not covered by this Bill. It falls under a separate piece of legislation,” says Nyatsanza.

Lodging complaints about smoking

Nyatsanza says citizens can lodge complaints about smoking to their local health department or to the National Council Against Smoking. “We receive many complaints about smoking, for example where secondhand smoke is affecting others in a complex. The Bill is important, as it provides clear legal guidelines and regulates this exposure to secondhand smoke more stringently.” 

Implementation and enforcement of the Bill

The Bill will be implemented and enforced through a combination of governmental agencies and law enforcement. More specific details will be finalised once the Bill is passed into law, but the emphasis will be on effective, fair, and consistent enforcement, says Zanele Mthembu, convenor of Protect our Next. 

The cost of implementation and taxpayer money

Although implementation may require some funding,  it’s important to note that the cost to taxpayers will be substantially less than the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses, says Mthembu.  The cost to the economy of tobacco-related illness, death and lost productivity is in the region of R42 billion per year. 

Impact on illicit trade

While concerns that measures in the Bill could potentially drive more illicit trade are frequently raised by the tobacco industry,  this is a criminal issue that the government is committed to addressing, working closely with law enforcement and customs agencies to detect and prevent illegal activities related to tobacco products, says Prof Ayo-Yusuf. “The tobacco industry has been accused of complicity in large-scale illicit trading. While it is a major criminal concern, the tobacco industry uses the over-exaggeration of illicit trade problem to manipulate public opinion and to oppose further increases in tobacco excise tax. Ultimately, we need strong tobacco control measures, increased taxes and a focus on addressing illicit trade.”

Concerns on job losses and the impact on the tobacco industry

Concerns were expressed about job losses and the impact on the tobacco-growing industry. Small business owners raised their concerns about loss in business revenues. Prof Lekan Ayo-Yusuf, Director of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS) and Head of the School of Health Systems and Public Health at the University of Pretoria, says the evidence across multiple studies is clear: not only does stronger tobacco control legislation not harm the economy or cause job losses, it could actually stimulate job creation in other sectors, generate government revenues, and reduce the economic costs associated with tobacco use. 

“Studies show that a decrease in spending on tobacco is usually associated with an increase in expenditure on other goods and services in the economy, creating jobs in these sectors,” says Ayo-Yusuf. “If people stop smoking, the revenue from excise taxes on tobacco and related products doesn’t disappear, people spend the money on other things instead. This could then help other industries grow, creating healthier jobs and a more sustainable economy. It’s high time we challenged the misleading narrative pushed by the tobacco industry and embraced policies that promote both public health and economic prosperity.  Remember, a sick nation is a poor nation.”

The queries show the public’s deep interest in understanding the future landscape of tobacco and electronic delivery system usage in the country, says Nyatsanza. However, she highlights that there is considerable tobacco industry interference as the organisations work to protect their profits.  “Many misconceptions are being spread about the Bill. The tobacco industry is defending its business at the expense of public health and finances. It’s time for us to ensure stronger tobacco control policies to reduce tobacco consumption and curb this harm. We strongly encourage all citizens to attend their local public hearings and show their support for the Bill.”

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