Caution Regarding South Africa's New Smoking Regulations

February 7, 2024

Residents in Gauteng are divided over the proposed Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill, with concerns raised by businesses about its potential negative impact on the township economy.

The Portfolio Committee on Health recently conducted public hearings on the Bill in Gauteng, mirroring the mixed responses seen in Limpopo, the North West, and Mpumulanga.

The Bill aims to:

- Establish smoke-free indoor public places and certain outdoor areas.
- Prohibit cigarette sales through vending machines.
- Mandate plain packaging with graphic health warnings.
- Prohibit the display of tobacco products at points of sale.
- Regulate electronic nicotine delivery systems.

While some Gauteng residents support aspects like graphic health warnings and plain packaging to protect non-smokers, others, including the Gauteng Liquor Traders Association (GLTA), have voiced concerns.

The GLTA, representing 35,000 liquor traders, opposed the Bill, citing its potential negative impact on small businesses and the lack of consultation with affected parties.

Regarding the township economy, the GLTA is particularly concerned about:

- The ban on displaying tobacco products.
- Prohibiting vending machines and single cigarette sales.

The GLTA argues that such measures would drive customers to the illicit market, which surged during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, the GLTA criticizes the proposed distance for smoking near doors or windows, citing challenges in densely populated townships.

In terms of vaping, the GLTA believes the Bill overlooks the harm reduction potential of e-cigarettes and other alternatives. Non-combusted alternatives have contributed to significant reductions in smoking rates in nations like Japan and Sweden. Countries such as the USA, UK, and New Zealand have acknowledged the potential of non-combusted alternatives in mitigating the harm caused by smoking. However, the Bill overlooks the necessity for varied approaches to expedite substantial decreases in smoking and related illnesses.

While South Africa lacks an official tobacco harm reduction (THR) strategy, non-combustible alternatives like vapes and e-cigarettes have garnered popularity, with usage rates ranging from 2.2 percent to 4 percent, according to the Africa Harm Reduction Alliance, an organization comprising prominent harm reduction experts in the medical field.

Citing global data, the alliance highlights that countries offering smoke-free alternatives to cigarettes, which are accessible and affordable to adult smokers, witness significant reductions in smoking rates. However, instead of leveraging non-combustible alternatives as the cornerstone of a THR strategy in South Africa, the government has portrayed vaping negatively to the extent that smokers, medical professionals, and caregivers often perceive it as more harmful than smoking.

The alliance criticizes the government's uniform approach to both combustible tobacco products and non-combustible alternatives, arguing that it incorrectly assumes all nicotine products pose equal harm. Embedding this approach into the proposed Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill, they contend, will impede access to less harmful smoke-free alternatives for adult smokers seeking to quit cigarettes.

Overall, the GLTA urges reconsideration of the Bill's provisions to find effective ways to combat the illicit trade without penalizing responsible traders and to support harm-reducing alternatives to traditional cigarettes.

Opposition to the Bill

The proposed Tobacco Bill has sparked widespread criticism within the industry, with a survey conducted by Clippa Sales and Casa Tabacs revealing that 200 specialist tobacconists in South Africa are against the bill.

"Proposing a total ban on displaying the only products they sell in their stores poses an existential risk to their businesses," stated Clippa's Alex Jacovides. "These are legal products that are only sold, by law, to those over the age of 18."

Nearly all respondents (98%) expressed opposition to the display ban, citing its detrimental impact on their businesses and employment prospects. According to Diane Bravo, owner of Casa Tabacs, implementing the display ban could lead to business closures, negatively affecting the country's revenue and employment rates.

The bill also imposes severe penalties, including a 10-year prison sentence and/or a fine, for accidental display of cigarettes on the counter. An overwhelming majority (99.5%) of respondents deemed this punishment excessive.

Concerns were raised about the potential surge in sales in the illicit tobacco industry due to the ban on displaying tobacco products, similar to what occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Respondents also criticized the use of standardized or plain packaging, fearing it would facilitate counterfeiting and fuel criminal activity in the country.


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