Mixed reaction to tobacco control bill
There has been mixed reaction to the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill, which seeks to strengthen public health protection measures, align the tobacco control law with the World Health Organisation Framework Convention and repeal 1993's Tobacco Control Act.
In line with the constitution, the parliamentary portfolio committee on health is conducting nationwide public hearings on the bill.
In the first of three in the North West, some Bojanala Platinum district municipality residents supported the bill, while others rejected its proposals, said committee spokesperson Malatswa Molepo.
Those who supported the bill highlighted the financial burden the effects of smoking has on the healthcare system and that the financial contribution made through tax collection from the industry is negligible compared to the R42bn that the department of health spends on healthcare to assist victims of tobacco-induced illnesses.
They also raised concerns that vapes and other electronic devices target the youth and expose them to unknown harmful chemicals in those products, said committee chairperson Kenneth Jacobs.
“Those who supported the bill also said vaping and other electronic delivery systems were a precursor to smoking of other harmful substances such as drugs. Furthermore, they welcomed the proposals of smoke free zones as they were of the view that this will protect non-smokers from the effects of secondary smoke inhalation,” he added.
Those who rejected the bill felt it would inadvertently increase the rate of unemployment in the country and cause the death and withering away of tobacco farming businesses in South Africa. A major concern was that the overregulation of the industry will have a devastating impact on small traders who depend on the sale of tobacco products for their livelihoods, Jacobs said.
“They also highlighted that the real challenge is with the booming illicit tobacco trade which emanated mainly from foreign countries. They also referred to the experiences of the Covid-19 imposed national shutdown as an example of the impact of overregulation and that the impact was that consumption of illicit tobacco products increased.
“Furthermore, they highlighted the negative impact the bill will have on the tax revenue base. They suggested that a shrinking tobacco industry will reduce the considerable tax contribution made by the tobacco industry in the national revenue purse. They also suggested that government should focus on enforcement of the available tobacco regulations rather than criminalise legal traders.”
Some participants called for the bill to be returned to the National Economic Development and Labour Council for further consultation. Those who opposed it argued there is a need for the department of health to undertake extensive socioeconomic and cost benefit assessments of the bill as the existing findings are outdated and not reflective of the current situation, he said.
The proposed legislative and policy changes seek to:
- Introduce indoor public places and certain outdoor areas that are 100% smoke-free;
- Ban the sale of cigarettes through vending machines; introduce plain packaging with graphic health warnings and pictorials and a ban on display at point-of-sale; and
- Regulate and control electronic nicotine delivery systems and non-nicotine delivery systems.
Individuals and organisations still have an opportunity to comment on the bill after the extension of the deadline for written submissions. The closing date is September 4. Written submissions can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or made online.
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