BERND FISCHER

“The present regulations are a school picnic. We are going to hit smokers hard.” Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi has threatened to enforce even more stringent smoking laws in South Africa, where smoking has been cited as the second highest concern after HIV/AIDS.

According to the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa, there were nearly eight million adult smokers in South Africa last year. Despite cigarette consumption decreasing by 30% from 10 years ago, Motsoaledi has maintained that in order to create a healthier South Africa, drastic measures need to be taken. If the Department of Health gets its way, smoking will no longer only be banned in the workplace, in restaurants and on public transport, but the new laws will target smokers puffing outdoors. Possible new regulations include the criminalising of smoking within ten metres of any doorway or window. When on a beach, smoking will be prohibited within fifty metres of the closest person.

South Africa is already internationally known for having some of the strictest smoking laws in a developing country. Amendments to the act aim to comply with the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a global agreement signed by 168 countries, whose aim is to protect individuals from the “devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequence[s] of tobacco consumption.”

The public has been quick to respond from both sides of the argument. Dr Yussuf Saloojee, Executive Director of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), spoke in support of the government’s plans to target smoking at a media briefing held on 25 July. “We applaud the Minister of Health and hope the amendments will be made into law as soon as possible,” he said. According to Saloojee and the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 54 million smokers die annually of diseases caused by tobacco, while the same diseases kill nearly 600 000 non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. “This is not about punishing smokers but about protecting the majority of South Africans who don’t smoke,” he continued. The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) has supported Saloojee’s argument.

“Separation of smokers from non-smokers, ventilation systems, air cleaning and filtration are all ineffective strategies to eliminate second-hand smoke exposure and its harmful effects,” says Professor Lekan Ayo-Yusuf from UP. Ayo-Yusuf states that research done on the air quality of restaurants in Pretoria found that a significant amount of tobacco smoke was found in these so-called enclosed areas and that the only effective way to prevent this exposure is by the implementation of a “100% smoking ban”.

Executive Director of the Free Market Foundation Leon Louw has criticised the new regulations. Louw argues that businesses will suffer greatly under the new laws, especially those in the hospitality industry such as restaurants, bars, nightclubs and casinos. The proposed regulations would put those establishments which cater entirely to smokers completely out of business. In Ireland, 11% of the country’s pubs were forced to close down within four years of their 2004 smoking ban. “How can we allow laws that will undoubtedly harm our country’s economy by putting people out of business and make our unemployment situation even worse?” says Louw.

However, research conducted in 2004 by Professor Corné van Walbeeck of the University of Cape Town disproves these assumptions. The study investigated the effects of the 2001 smoking ban on the hospitality industry which forced establishments to provide enclosed smoking areas. The results showed that 59,3% of restaurant owners interviewed said that the ban did not have a negative impact on their income. In fact, 21,7% of owners believed the ban had a positive effect on their finances.

Apart from an economic loss, Louw maintains that the new conditions would diverge from the constitutional right to dignity, privacy and freedom of association. They have also been slated as too vague to be imposed, as well as elitist and ill-considered. For example, the question of implementing the amendments in township areas where building structures are relatively smaller has been raised. However, the Director of the NCAS, Peter Ucko, has denied that such a problem exists as there are significantly fewer smokers in these areas.

As expected, UP will also be affected by the new regulations. There are currently demarcated areas on campus where smoking is allowed but once these regulations come into effect, smoking on campus will become a challenge. Perdeby asked students at Tuks how they felt about the issue. “It would be great. [I] especially hate it when people smoke on campus. [It’s] so inconsiderate to everyone else,” says Mikayla Profe, a second-year BDietetics student. However, not everyone appears to be as optimistic. “Whatever the government’s ruling is, people won’t stop smoking in public. People smoke in front of ‘no smoking’ signs anyway,” says second-year medical student Aashiq Cassim.

If the new regulations do become law, the government has warned that those opposing the system will suffer the consequences. Smoking in public will result in individuals receiving a R500 fine while business owners and employers can be charged up to R50 000 and R100 000 respectively.

The age-old battle between smokers and non-smokers is set to continue for the next few months until the government makes a final decision. It’s up to the public to decide whether the government has the public’s best interests at heart or whether they are disregarding constitutional rights.

Photo: Hendro van der Merwe

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