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D-Day looms for proposed Tobacco Bill with industry and traders up in arms

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The August 4th deadline for public submissions on the proposed Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill looms, and the tobacco industry stakeholders, informal and formal traders, are up in arms about the proposed bill.

The bill, amongst others, proposes to ban the sale of loose cigarettes. File picture Courtney Africa, African News Agency (ANA)

THE AUGUST 4th deadline for public submissions on the proposed Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill looms, and the tobacco industry stakeholders, informal and formal traders, are up in arms about the proposed bill and some have since asked for an extension of the date of public submissions.

The proposed bill, approved by the Cabinet earlier this year, is a lost opportunity to make adult smokers aware of smoke-free alternatives, according to international tobacco company Philip Morris South Africa (PMSA).

PMSA managing director Branislav Bibic said the bill, which has been on the agenda since 2018, if passed in its current form, misses a huge opportunity to encourage all adult South Africans who would otherwise continue smoking to switch to smoke-free alternatives.

He said the bill would also undermine the efforts of adult smokers who have switched to better alternatives, such as heated tobacco products and e-cigarettes as an alternative to continued smoking.

“While we support the government’s intentions to combat tobacco prevalence and youth uptake in South Africa, we would welcome a discussion with regulators on how to best facilitate suitable access to these products within a reasonable regulatory framework at this time.

“We need the right regulatory framework, encouragement, support from civil society and the full embrace of science before any decisions are made.”

According to Bibic, the proposed bill should provide the country with an opportunity to make this a possibility by differentiating how scientifically substantiated products that don’t burn tobacco are regulated differently compared to cigarettes.

“By creating differentiated taxes and regulation of heated tobacco products and e-cigarettes, this would be a step towards encouraging those who would otherwise continue smoking to change to less harmful alternatives,” he said.

“The bill in its current form prevents the access of South African smokers to scientifically substantiated products which are an alternative to smoking cigarettes,” Bibic said.

Meanwhile, the National Informal Traders Alliance of South Africa (Nitasa) said informal traders are calling for a 60-day extension to the August 4 deadline for public submissions on the bill, arguing that the short time allocated will prejudice the rights of informal traders, and the government is simply trying to railroad legislation through Parliament.

Nitasa said it represented thousands of informal traders, hawkers, spaza shop owners and home-based operators across the country.

Nitasa president Rosheda Muller said cigarettes were one of the most highly traded products for the informal sector of the retail market. They formed a large percentage of many traders’ incomes and play a vital role because when customers stopped for cigarettes they then often purchased a range of other products.

“If the government wants to hear what informal traders think about this bill and the impact it will have on the informal trade, they need to give us the time to do it properly. The vast majority of traders don’t even know about the bill yet, let alone understand the impact that it has on their livelihoods and ability to trade.

“We believe this is far too short a period for those operating in the informal sector to consult and make a submission. Think about the practical reality of how informal traders will submit. We don’t sit at a desk all day writing e-mails with wi-fi access.

“To submit, traders will need to meet with their organisations, probably after hours, then access a computer and develop a submission which then needs to be agreed to by members, and then they have to find an internet connection to send it to Parliament. Most traders often don’t even have money for data to send messages to members.”

Muller said several specific provisions in the bill would harm informal traders, but one of the most damaging clauses was a ban on the sale of single cigarette sticks.

“According to the bill, informal traders will only be allowed to sell a whole box to a customer in its original sealed packaging. The penalty for selling singles is a 10-year prison sentence or a fine.

“The 10-year prison sentence is beyond comprehension. The current prison sentence for aggravated assault is three years, but the government wants to send informal traders to prison for 10 years for selling a legal product. This is madness,” Muller said.

– BUSINESS REPORT

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