Make-or-break hearings into the proposed tightening anti-tobacco laws are scheduled to take place in Parliament this week.
Those expected to put their views to MPs in Parliament’s health committee range from the National Council Against Smoking and medical experts to industry stalwart Phillip Morris SA.
The hearings are part of a process expected to lead to the government amending the country’s Tobacco Products Control Bill in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations.
‘Regulated out of existence’
The bill was expected to be passed last year but it was delayed to allow a full hearing of views.
Last year saw heated opposition and support for the bill which, if it becomes law, will see a far tougher line on smoking in public places as well as manufacturing standards – and a range of verbal and written submissions were made to the health committee of the National Assembly.
On one side, the tobacco industry says it contributes about R8-billion a year to the fiscus in taxes and, while it admits health risks exist, argues it is being regulated out of existence and there is a danger that a situation similar to that of the prohibition era in America will exist and an illegal tobacco industry will flourish beyond government control.
The industry estimates that as many as 10 million illegal cigarettes are smoked each day, with consumers none the wiser about content or whether acceptable manufacturing standards have been followed. There are also concerns that the tobacco farming industry, which employs about 20 000 people in South Africa, could see resultant job losses.
The Health Department, however, says it is obliged to meet international standards for tobacco control and is moreover planning regulations at a provincial competency level that would clamp down on the sale of single cigarettes and control advertising on packets.
The department says at least 80 South Africans die each day as a result of tobacco-related diseases and the toll is twice as high as the number of people who die in motor accidents.
The bill seeks to amend the Tobacco Products Control Act, 1993 (Act No 83 of 1993) to bring it in line with the WHO Framework Conventions on Tobacco Control, to which South Africa is a signatory.
The bill seeks to close loopholes in the act by restricting or prohibiting smoking in certain outdoor and public places, set standards for the manufacturing and export of tobacco products, and amend the regulation section empowering the minister to prescribe the standards that a tobacco product must comply with and the information that a manufacturer of a tobacco product must submit to the minister.
The bill also proposes amendments to the preamble so as to, among others, insert the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
This means it seeks to allow the health minister more powers to regulate what goes into tobacco products and what comes out in the form of smoke.
It aims to stop smokers standing at the entrance of public places. It also sets out penalties aimed at clamping down on restaurateurs as well as manufacturers who flout existing laws governing smoking.
Texans head to Mexico to buy cigarettes and Smokeless nicotine
A New Year’s Day tax hike means Texans are paying $1 more for pack of cigarettes.
That has some smokers searching for savings across the border.
You see the venders on nearly every street corner – stand after stand – catering to smokers who make the short trip across the border for big savings.
“The cost is $2.50 for a pack,” said one vendor.
That’s about half of what a pack of cigarettes now costs in Texas after state lawmakers raised the tax by $1.
The new tax is expected to generate $700 million a year for Texas.
Cigarette venders in Mexico hope the move boosts sales in border cities.
One long time vender predicts many of his Texas customers will smuggle their stash rather than pay the higher tax.
That means failing to stop at booths set up by the state to collect liquor and cigarette taxes at border crossings. Others may try to beat the system.
Early birds and night owls can get a break on the tax because these booths up and down the border are not open 24 hours a day. They’re only staffed between 8 a.m. and midnight.
It’s still too early to tell what impact the tax hike will have on the Texas-Mexico border.
But on another border, when Canada raised the tax on cigarettes a few years ago, large scale smuggling from the U.S soared.