Campaign against anti-smoking bill intensifies

JOHANNESBURG - A bill that would toughen anti-smoking legislation in South Africa has been submitted to parliament for review by lawmakers, a health ministry spokesman said on Wednesday, as a campaign against the proposed changes intensifies.

The Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill would restrict smoking in public places, introduce plain packaging, ban point-of-sale advertising and displays, and scrap the sale of single cigarettes.

It is opposed by some businesses, including Japan Tobacco International (JTI), which paid for a radio advert aired this month that encouraged the public to protest against the proposals, published by the Department of Health in May.

Health ministry spokesman Popo Maja told Reuters the bill, submitted to parliament for review last week, seeks to comply with standards set by the World Health Organization's (WHO) tobacco control framework, which South Africa signed in 2005.

"Everything has been taken into consideration. What WHO and our country are saying is that it is important for us to make sure that we have a healthy workforce," he said.

A group of business associations representing nearly 20,000 restaurants, taverns and small business traders and consumers have also said they oppose the bill, saying "over-regulation" will affect jobs and the economy.

They also say it will criminalise small businesses that sell tobacco products and that the proposed fines are excessive.

"Steering emotions, encouraging people to complain, renting crowds to demonstrate are well-known tactics by the tobacco industry," health ministry spokesman Maja said.

"When people get sick, the tobacco industry is not there to foot the bill. It is public health that does because these people end up in public institutions."

In 2011 British American Tobacco sued South Africa's Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi over previous tobacco legislation but lost the case.