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The big taboo

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When South Africa first introduced designated smoking areas in restaurants and bars, there was vehement opposition from some sections of the hospitality industry. Twenty years later Savera Kalideen, the Executive Director of the National Council Agai

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More than twenty years ago when South Africa first introduced designated smoking areas in restaurants and bars, there was vehement opposition from some sections of the hospitality industry. They argued that restaurants would lose significant revenue and even close down, jobs would be lost and the public would neither eat out anymore nor would they abide by the law.

But two decades later, smoking in non-smoking sections of a restaurant has become a complete taboo.

Both ordinary South Africans and the hospitality sector have policed and implemented the legislation. And despite those initial concerns, research from the University of Cape Town shows that none of the 700 restaurants surveyed saw a drop in patrons or profits by marking off designated smoking areas.

Of the restaurants, only 1% allowed patrons to smoke wherever they wanted to while more than 40% followed a no-smoking policy and a little over 40% designated an area outside for smoking. Just 11% had a designated area for smoking inside the restaurant.

No-smoking areas within restaurants and other public spaces have now become the norm, and smokers and non-smokers have shown support for restricting smoking in public places.

The legislation, and the annual increase in the price of cigarettes, led to a consistent decrease in the prevalence of smokers from about 38% in 1998 to between 16% and 18% in 2012.

But South Africa has not seen a significant drop in consumption of tobacco products since 2012. And what’s more worrying is that there’s no reduction in the prevalence of smoking among young people.

The Draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill – which is out for public comment until tomorrow – will address this problem.