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Friday, 28 July 2023 09:15

Health groups slam request for public submission delay on the Tobacco Control Bill.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

The Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill of 2022, first published in 2018, contains critical evidence-based measures to reduce tobacco use in South Africa. The Bill is at last in parliament and a public call for submissions by 4 August has been made by the Portfolio Committee on Health (http://bit.ly/TCBill).

This week, the South Africa Tobacco Transformation Alliance (SATTA) called to delay the Bill processes. South Africa simply cannot afford any more delays, say South Africa's leading health organisations forming part of Protect our Next partnership.

"The delays in the Tobacco Control Bill have hurt South Africa. A full five years after the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill was first published for public comment by the government, it is still not finalised," says Dr. Sharon Nyatsanza of the National Council Against Smoking.  "Based on 2016 figures, every year, over 25 000 people over 35 die directly due to smoking, and over 200,000 people become sick from smoking-related diseases including cancer, heart and lung disease. It costs the economy more than R42 billion annually to treat these tobacco-related illnesses, and in lost productivity. That is the price South Africa has paid."

The Bill's purpose is to prevent youth from getting addicted to nicotine, to help those already addicted to nicotine to quit completely and to protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke. These key policies are urgently needed, says Protect our Next convenor and public health policy expert Zanele Mthembu. "Our law-making follows a process, and we must adhere to this if the Bill is to be passed in 2023. The Tobacco Industry is well aware of this and we cannot concede to delay tactics designed to derail the Bill. If South Africa is to meet the aspirations of the country's development agenda, we need to fast-track the adoption of this Bill. The Bill is also an important factor in the successful implementation of our National Health Insurance (NHI) – as we must reduce our non-communicable disease burden, which is exacerbated by tobacco use."

Dr Catherine Egbe of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) says that it is clear that the tobacco and e-cigarette industries are continuing to step up efforts to prevent the Bill from being passed. "In a common Tobacco Industry propaganda technique seen in many countries, the facts are being twisted in a last-ditch attempt to sway public opinion. This is often based on the only arguments the industry can distort and latch onto -  jobs, punishment such as jail time, illicit trade and 'harm reduction' through e-cigarettes."

Dr Egbe says that public opinion is in fact overwhelmingly in favour of the Bill, with 9 out of 10 supporting the smoke-free spaces measure according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey conducted in South Africa in 2021 (GATS-SA).  GATS-SA further shows that about 300,000 young adults aged 15 to 24 years currently use e-cigarettes. “The protection of the lives of all South Africans must always supercede industry profits, and South Africans agree. While we wait, thousands of children are being recruited daily as replacement smokers and nicotine addicts. Nicotine primes the brain to be more susceptible to other drug addictions and hampers the development of the brain, especially during adolescence. Let's protect our next generation from a lifetime of nicotine addiction."

"It is not news when the industry and its proxies challenge tobacco control regulation," says Nyatsanza. "The industry's primary focus is to make more money and profit for themselves– with no regard for the human tragedy and socio-economic cost of this business of promoting addiction. We urge the government to take the impact of tobacco very seriously – and we urge every company, health organisation, non-profit organisation, church, school, youth group and citizen to submit their views and support. Further delay will only benefit the tobacco industry – and will have devastating costs for all."