In a series of packed public hearings orchestrated by Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health, Gauteng residents recently seized the opportunity to weigh in on the contentious draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill. These hearings sought to gauge public sentiment regarding proposed legislative changes that aim to revolutionize the smoking landscape in South Africa, a country where approximately 29.4% of the adult population reportedly consumes tobacco products, as highlighted by the South African Medical Research Council.
Amidst the fervent discussions, Gauteng inhabitants articulated contrasting perspectives on the multifaceted bill that intends to:
Throughout these deliberations, Gauteng residents raised significant objections, reflecting concerns about the categorization of nicotine as a toxic substance, apprehensions among small-scale traders regarding potential income loss due to the proposed ban, apprehensions about the substantial impact on South Africa’s tax revenue owing to the industry’s size, and the anticipated surge in the illicit cigarette market following the bill’s implementation.
Economic worries mirrored sentiments expressed in prior public consultations in regions such as Limpopo, the North West, and Mpumalanga. Participants urged the government to redirect its focus towards combatting the black-market tobacco trade, enhance public awareness campaigns regarding the detrimental effects of nicotine, and provide a clearer roadmap for the effective enforcement of the proposed bill.
Acknowledging the array of viewpoints, the committee noted specific provisions of the bill that resonated positively with Gauteng residents. These included advocating for plain packaging to curtail impulsive tobacco purchases, incorporating impactful visuals on packaging to underscore the perils of smoking, and an outright prohibition on vending machine sales of tobacco products.
In addition to these endorsements, proponents of the bill underscored its potential to safeguard non-smokers against the hazards posed by second-hand smoke exposure.
The committee emphasized its intent to introduce these amendments to the country’s smoking laws with the overarching aim to “strengthen public health protection measures, align South African tobacco control laws with the World Health Organization Framework Convention, and repeal the Tobacco Control Act of 1993.”
As the legislative process unfolds, the committee announced plans for further public engagements, with the next session scheduled to recommence in January 2024 in KwaZulu-Natal. This continued dialogue underscores the commitment to thoroughly assess and incorporate diverse perspectives in shaping comprehensive tobacco control policies for South Africa.
This extensive consultation process remains pivotal in ensuring a balanced and informed approach to address concerns, aspirations, and the broader public health impact of the proposed tobacco control measures within the Gauteng province and across the nation.