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2023-12-06 11:54 AM

South Africa’s Tobacco Bill Sparks Diverse Township Economy Concerns

  • Divergent Views in Gauteng: The article highlights conflicting opinions among Gauteng residents regarding the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill. It discusses both support and opposition to various provisions, emphasizing the impact on the township economy.
  • Concerns Raised by GLTA: The Gauteng Liquor Traders Association (GLTA) expresses apprehensions about the impracticality of the proposed Bill within township economies. They emphasize potential negative effects on small businesses, particularly regarding the ban on single cigarette sales and the perceived boost to the illicit market.
  • Emphasis on Harm Reduction and Practicality: Critics, including the GLTA, underscore the importance of considering harm reduction strategies, such as exploring alternatives like e-cigarettes. Additionally, concerns arise regarding the enforcement and practicality of certain regulations, such as smoking distance from doors or windows, in densely populated township areas.
By Miriam Matoma

In the heart of Gauteng, South Africa, discussions surrounding the contentious Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill have evoked mixed reactions among residents. The proposed legislative changes have sparked debates on their potential effects, especially within the country’s township economy, reflecting a nuanced array of opinions.

The Portfolio Committee on Health convened multiple public hearings across Gauteng, mirroring similar engagements in other provinces like Limpopo, the North West, and Mpumalanga. Within these deliberations, a spectrum of support and opposition toward the Bill became evident.

The overarching objectives of the Bill encompass several key facets, aiming to:

  1. Enforce a 100% smoke-free policy in indoor public spaces and specified outdoor areas.
  2. Prohibit the sale of cigarettes through vending machines.
  3. Mandate plain packaging adorned with graphic health warnings and images.
  4. Prohibit tobacco product displays at the point of sale.
  5. Regulate and oversee electronic nicotine delivery systems and non-nicotine delivery systems.

Amidst the voices supporting various provisions of the Bill, certain sections gained traction among Gauteng residents. These included the incorporation of visual warnings on packaging, advocating for plain packaging, and the potential safeguarding of non-smokers against the perils of second-hand smoke inhalation.

However, divergent perspectives emerged, notably voiced by the Gauteng Liquor Traders Association (GLTA), which represents a significant contingent of approximately 35,000 liquor traders in the province.

The GLTA underscored concerns about the impracticality of the Bill within the township economy, highlighting anticipated repercussions on small businesses. They argued that affected stakeholders had not been adequately consulted, raising questions about the viability and inclusivity of the proposed changes.

Expressing reservations, Thabo Thlobelo from the GLTA emphasized the integral role of selling single cigarettes in sustaining livelihoods within communities. He emphasized that many individuals cannot afford full packs and prefer purchasing single cigarettes, particularly in conjunction with a drink at local taverns. The outright prohibition of vending machines and single cigarette sales could significantly impact the socio-economic dynamics of these areas.

Moreover, concerns were raised about the potential boost to the illicit market, an issue that surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. The GLTA, echoing sentiments shared by critics of the Bill, cautioned that stringent regulations, including uniform packaging, could inadvertently fortify illegal trade channels. This was coupled with concerns about the enforcement decline against illicit products, impacting authentic traders negatively.

Jongikhaya Kraai, a spokesperson for the GLTA, expressed dismay over the lack of emphasis on harm reduction through alternative products like e-cigarettes within the Bill. Kraai stressed the global shift towards less harmful alternatives to traditional cigarettes and lamented the Bill’s perceived failure to encourage these alternatives, potentially missing an opportunity to mitigate health risks.

A particular contention arose regarding smoking distance from doors or windows, with concerns raised about the practicality of enforcing such regulations in densely populated township areas.

The multifaceted debate highlights the necessity for a balanced approach, recognizing the socio-economic nuances of township economies while addressing public health concerns. Critics urge a reassessment of strategies to combat the illicit market without unduly penalizing law-abiding traders. Additionally, they call for an inclusive approach considering harm-reduction opportunities presented by emerging smoking alternatives.

As South Africa navigates this juncture between public health priorities and economic realities, the discourse around the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill underscores the importance of comprehensive deliberation, inclusive engagement, and the pursuit of solutions that accommodate diverse perspectives for the collective well-being of the nation.

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Miriam Matoma

Miriam is a freelance writer, she covers economics and government news for Rateweb. You can contact her on: Email: Twitter: @MatomaMiriam