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South Africa: Smokers Take Note – Current and Future Tobacco Regulation

By Wilma Stassen, 18 March 2013

Tobacco legislation in South Africa is constantly changing, and ignorant smokers may find themselves on the wrong side of the law with fines of up to R100 000. Here’s what smokers should know, and new changes thay can expect in future.

Smokers in New Zealand will soon buy their cigarettes in boring brown packaging with graphic pictures of smoking-related disease and the brand name displayed in a small, plain font.

This island country is following the lead of its southwest Pacific neighbour, Australia, who was the first country to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products last December. Australia went ahead with the legislation despite legal threats from the tobacco industry and tobacco-growing countries.

The motivation behind this new legislation is to strip tobacco products of any “glamour” or marketing that might be attached to brand names, a move, experts believe will stop young people from taking up the habit in the first place.

“Plain packaging is not a ‘shot in the dark’, as the tobacco industry would have us believe,” said Patricia Lambert from the US-based Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

“Credible international behavioural scientists conducted exhaustive tests to determine the effects of plain packaging as a public health measure on the general public before making recommendations to the Australian government. They have provided scientific evidence that the introduction of plain packaging will deter young people from becoming addicted to tobacco products and may also assist addicted smokers to quit.”

Last year, when congratulating the Australian government on the new legislation, the South African Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi – who has been driving stricter smoking regulation for this country as well – said plain packaging will also be introduced here sometime in the future.

“South Africa and other governments should first implement pictorial warnings that cover 75 percent of the front and back of every packet of tobacco or cigarettes. After that, they will be in a position to move towards plain packaging,” said Lambert.

Although plain packaging in South Africa is still several years away, there are other recent changes, or changes in the pipeline, to the Tobacco Control Act that can land a perpetrator with a fine of up to R100 000 fine.

“This legislation works so well, because people want it to work,” said Peter Ucko from the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS).

The law states that the person in control of a public place is responsible for enforcing the smoking ban. For instance, at a restaurant, the manager or owner should ensure the law is enforced, or at a cricket match, the managers or organisers of the event would have to train security personnel and other staff to ensure people only smoke in designated areas.

If the law is not enforced, any member of the public can lay a complaint by contacting the health department at the local municipality, or open a docket at the nearest police station. Some municipalities, like Cape Town, have a dedicated tobacco complaints line that deals only with these types of complaints.

Once a police docket has been opened, or a complaint has been laid and investigated, the offending party (be it a restaurant owner or events manager) will receive an official warning, and in other instances a fine.

According to Ucko, many fines have been issued to businesses and venues that have failed to enforce the law and admission of guilt fines paid.

Here is what South Africans need to know.

Current legislation

A number of tobacco laws are often misunderstood or plainly ignored.

– No smoking is allowed in a public enclosed or partially enclosed space, unless it is a designated smoking area. Currently no more than 25 percent of any premises may be allocated to the smoking area – up to R50 000 fine.

This law is occasionally ignored by restaurant, pub and night club owners who allow smoking anywhere on their premises or in areas larger than the prescribed 25 percent. This law also applies to partially enclosed areas such as sport stadiums and other event venues, where smoking is only allowed in designated areas – this does not include staircases and walkways.

– Tobacco products may not be sold or supplied to anyone under the age of 18 – up to R100 000 fine.

As with alcohol, no cigarettes or tobacco products may be sold or supplied to anyone under the age of 18. The law includes the sale of flavoured tobacco products used for smoking the hookah pipe, or hubbly bubbly, which is gaining popularity among the youth.

– Children under the age of 18 are not allowed in a designated smoking area – up to R50 000 fine.

Some restaurateurs allow families with young children to sit in the smoking section of a restaurant because adults in the group want to smoke. The restaurant manager is required to ensure that no person under the age of 18 is present.

– No smoking is allowed in a motor vehicle where a child younger than 12 years is present – up to R50 000 fine.

Under no circumstances is smoking allowed in any motor vehicle while there is a child under the age of 12 present. Despite the well-publicised dangers of second-hand smoke, many adults, including parents, still light up with children in the car thinking that opening a window is enough.

– Cigarettes may not be sold individually – up to R100 000 fine.

The law states that tobacco products may not be sold “loose”, and may only be sold in packages as prescribed in the regulations. Whilst the size of the package has not been specified, it must contain information such as the health warning and quit line number. Selling cigarettes individually make it more affordable to children who may not have been able to afford to buy a whole packet.

Regulation in the pipeline

There are several regulations proposed which are in the process of being passed into law. These regulations have been published in the Government Gazette and after receipt of public comment are currently being considered by the Minister of Health. The following regulations are expected to be published and come into force this year:

– Smoking will be not be allowedinside any building, and smoking in certain outdoor areas, for example, beaches , sport stadiums, etc. will be regulated. Smoking will not be permitted at all in outdoor eating or drinking places, covered walkways or parking areas or within five meters of any doorway, entrance to a public place, or window or ventilation inlet.

Under these regulations, smoking will not be allowed in any public building, and smoking rooms, or designated smoking areas will not be permitted inside buildings. Smokers will have to smoke in a designated area outside that is at least five metres away from windows and doorways.

Smoking will also be banned or controlled in certain outdoor areas, for instance parks or beaches.

Smoking will not be allowed in any drinking or eating areas, therefore no more outdoor smoking areas at restaurants, bars or pubs.

– Cigarette displays in shops.

Currently tobacco companies use displays at the point-of-sales to advertise and market their products. These displays are believed to encourage people, especially the youth, to start smoking and make it more difficult for smokers to quit. New legislation is being considered that will limit the size and number of tobacco product displays at retailers.

Regulation currently under discussion

There are also other tobacco regulations that are currently being discussed that will possibly become legislation within the foreseeable future.

– Graphic health warnings on tobacco products.

It is expected that the Minister of Health will order graphic health warnings to be placed on cigarette boxes and other tobacco packaging. In other countries, visual images of, for example, smoker’s lungs, or tobacco-related cancers, have proven more effective than the text warnings that currently appear on South African tobacco packaging.

Tobacco complaint lines:

Cape Town – 021 400 4291

Johannesburg – 011 407 6111

Bloemfontein – 0800 111 3000

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