PRO­POSED SMOK­ING LAW A STEP TOO FAR

Financial Mail - - EDITORIALS -

Thys Visser, the late CEO of in­vest­ment hold­ing firm Rem­gro, is cred­ited with hav­ing said some­thing to this ef­fect: “There are more se­ri­ous prob­lems than smok­ing a cig­a­rette.” Of course, Visser had to say that — he made a liv­ing from man­u­fac­tur­ing cig­a­rettes. No doubt he was re­act­ing to the trend of reg­u­lat­ing the trad­ing and smok­ing of cig­a­rettes that has squeezed the in­dus­try across the world. In an ef­fort to limit smok­ing — due to its harm­ful ef­fects on pub­lic health — SA out­lawed the ad­ver­tis­ing of to­bacco prod­ucts about 20 years ago.

Ev­i­dently that was not enough to achieve the de­sired ef­fect. Gov­ern­ment said this week that it would gazette for pub­lic com­ment the Con­trol of To­bacco Prod­ucts & Elec­tronic De­liv­ery Sys­tems Bill. If passed, the new law would ban smok­ing in out­door pub­lic places. It would also pro­hibit cig­a­rette vend­ing machines and, for the first time, seek to reg­u­late e-cig­a­rettes and other nicotinede­liv­ery de­vices.

While the good in­ten­tions of the bill are in­dis­putable, seek­ing a to­tal ban on smok­ing out­doors seems a step too far. Laws must be just, fair, im­ple­mentable and po­lice­able.

The To­bacco Prod­ucts Con­trol Amend­ment

Act of 1999 was tar­geted at re­tail­ers and ad­ver­tis­ers. It banned the ad­ver­tis­ing of to­bacco prod­ucts, reg­u­lated their sale and in­tro­duced health warn­ings on la­bels. It was a suc­cess in that it was both fair and po­lice­able, as the re­tail­ers were di­rectly ac­count­able for the sale of their prod­ucts.

The difference with the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion is that it seems to un­fairly target smok­ers them­selves. By seek­ing to ban smok­ing out­doors — after smok­ers had, rightly so, been chased out­doors by the pre­vi­ous leg­is­la­tion — the leg­is­la­tion would in­vite the kind of de­fi­ance that has killed e-tolling. The wide­spread pub­lic de­fi­ance that e-tolling elicited has ren­dered it un­en­force­able.

As it stands, the lat­est anti-smok­ing leg­is­la­tion will only meet the same end. SA has more se­ri­ous and ur­gent prob­lems that need gov­ern­ment’s at­ten­tion than the smok­ing of cig­a­rettes by adults of sound mind. The po­lice al­ready have their hands full polic­ing real crime (and fail­ing).

Smok­ing a cig­a­rette is one of those “crimes” whose real vic­tim is the “per­pe­tra­tor” — the smoker. As such, crim­i­nal­is­ing smok­ing to­bacco would join the smok­ing of mar­i­juana and pros­ti­tu­tion in the vic­tim­less cat­e­gories of “crimes”.

On both those fronts, gov­ern­ment and the rul­ing party have covertly con­ceded de­feat. The high court in Cape Town has di­rected par­lia­ment to pass leg­is­la­tion to le­galise “recre­ational” use of mar­i­juana. This has not been op­posed. At its na­tional con­fer­ence, the ANC also for­mally re­solved to lift the crim­i­nal ban on pros­ti­tu­tion.

That’s not be­cause it has sud­denly re­alised the ben­e­fits of a le­gal sex trade; in­stead, it is an ad­mis­sion that it would be a waste of scarce re­sources to pur­sue con­sent­ing adults who are in the recre­ational busi­ness that sex is meant to be.

Be­sides, a pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ment should seek to ex­pand, not limit, the free­doms of its cit­i­zens.

Gov­ern­ment has no busi­ness de­cid­ing when and how adults smoke.

Its busi­ness, when it comes to to­bacco prod­ucts, is to en­sure leg­is­la­tion re­gard­ing in­gre­di­ents that go into pro­duc­ing to­bacco is strictly ad­hered to. And that all in­dus­try stakeholders pay their taxes, which should be used to pay for a proper health-care sys­tem. In this as­pect, the to­bacco in­dus­try has played its com­pul­sory role, the cost of which is ac­tu­ally borne by the smok­ing pub­lic. Turn­ing smok­ers into crim­i­nals is an as­sault on per­sonal liberty. It is also not the best way to treat some of your big­gest tax con­trib­u­tors.

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