Smokers want bill stubbed out

Lee-Anne Butler butlerl@avusa.co.za

SMOKERS in Nelson Mandela Bay are in a huff over the possible tightening of South Africa’s tobacco control laws which could see a ban on smoking in public.

Smokers have until June 28 to submit their comments on the draft regulations which could see smoking banned in all public areas, including indoor and outdoor eating and drinking establishments, at sports grounds and stadiums, playgrounds, zoos, schools and other childcare facilities, and all health facilities.

According to the National Council Against Smoking, smoking could also be restricted at work places, 5-10m from an entrance to a public area, as well as demarcated areas on beaches.

But smokers have hit back, claiming they had a constitutional right to enjoy a cigarette in public.

One Bay smoker, Bill Dunlop, said it was against his constitutional right to be told he could not smoke in public.

“I have been smoking for 60 years and my doctor has given me a letter stating that I cannot go for long periods without a cigarette because I will get withdrawal symptoms that will make me physically ill,” he said.

Another smoker, Grant Henderson, said the introduction of stricter laws would not affect his decision to smoke. He said the government should prioritise more serious issues like crime, rather than bothering to curb smoking.

“It is pathetic. This is a third world country and they are trying to bring in a first world law. Why not focus on fixing things like poverty or working on the electricity crisis instead?” he said.

Andrew Bage, who was enjoying a cigarette at Barneys Tavern in Summerstrand, said he did not see how the new laws would be policed.

“People will still continue smoking where they want. They cannot police the serious crimes so now they want to police petty things like this,” he said.

Executive director for the National Council Against Smoking, Dr Yussuf Saloojee, said the Department of Health had given citizens three months to submit their comments.

“I do not think these new regulations are harsh, because it only aims to better protect the public from the harms of smoking. It has been proven that smoke in designated public spaces still drifts to areas where smoking is not allowed,” he said.

“People should be allowed to eat, work, relax and queue without being forced to breathe in smoke. We need to protect others from the harm caused by smoking which could lead to heart disease, lung cancer, lung infections in children and sudden infant death syndrome [SIDS].”

Saloojee said the organisation was inundated with calls and complaints from non-smoking citizens who reported establishments and smokers who were breaking the law..

“Ordinary citizens are the ones who are calling in to complain and those who refuse to comply can be reported to environmental health practitioners and fined R50000 for the owner and R500 for the smoker.”

Saloojee said fines had been issued in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

He said since more stringent smoking laws were introduced in South Africa in 1999 there had been a 33% decline in the number of people who smoked.

He also said South Africa was lagging behind countries such as Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Scotland which had introduced more stringent regulations years ago.

People who want to comment on the changes to the tobacco control laws can e-mail the director- general at the Department of Health on mahurl@health.gov.za

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