Government proposes changes to current tobacco control legislation

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The Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill is the government’s first significant reforms to tobacco control legislation in a decade. But, Business Day quotes Lorato Mahura of the Health Department’s tobacco control unit as saying that the government expected push-back from the tobacco industry. “Our motive is to protect public health. Their mandate is to protect profits. We are going to be tampering with their profit-making processes. Of course they are going to fight back,” Mahura said.

About 18% of adult South Africans were smokers in 2012, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed.

The report says one of the biggest proposed changes is the regulation of e-cigarettes and other electronic devices for delivering nicotine that are not covered by the Tobacco Products Control Act. “They are marketed as alternatives to smoking-cessation products. The reality is that they are not as toxic as cigarettes but are still toxic. Nicotine is harmful over time,” said Mahura.

The Bill aims to reduce demand by scrapping point-of-sale advertising and requiring retailers to keep tobacco products out of sight. It also proposes plain packaging with graphic health warnings.

Philip Morris SA director of corporate affairs for reduced-risk products Neetesh Ramjee said a critical aspect of the Bill would be whether it drew a distinction between conventional tobacco products and electronic delivery devices such as his company’s heat-not-burn product IQOS. “If the minister says treat them all as cigarettes and totally cuts off communication, that is not going to help people switch,” he said. “We want to move away from conventional products to less harmful products. The government needs to allow people to make informed decisions.”

Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa chair Francois van der Merwe said many of the Bill’s measures to curb consumption had failed in other countries. Plain packaging would simply increase the sale of illicit products, which constituted 25% of the South African market, he said. The government should focus on stamping out illicit trade rather than introducing new measures to control tobacco products, van der Merwe said. New-generation products such as e-cigarettes were less harmful and should have a regulatory framework separate from conventional tobacco products.

Van der Merwe predicted strong opposition from small businesses to the bill’s restrictions on point-of-sale advertising. About 30% to 40% of South Africa’s cigarette sales are in the informal sector. “We support sensible legislation, but not extreme measures,” he said.

Lekan Ayo-Yusuf, director of the Africa Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research at Sefako Makgatho University, said the Bill, if implemented as proposed, would re-establish SA’s global leadership position in tobacco control. The report says Ayo-Yusuf disputed the Tobacco Institute’s claim that a quarter of cigarette sales in South Africa were illicit, saying research conducted by the University of Cape Town suggested the figure was 10% at worst. “The problem is effective law enforcement and (it should not be used) to stall tobacco products regulation,” Ayo-Yusuf said.

Business Day report (subscription needed)
HSRC survey


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