While smokers in South Africa are bracing themselves for the implementation of tougher laws, anti-smoking lobbyists will be kicking butt to draw more out of government.
“We appreciate and applaud the efforts made by government to dissuade people from using tobacco products, but we believe that more can, and should be done,” said Dr Yusuf Saloojee, executive director at the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS).
Proposed new laws should provide an extra incentive for smokers who want to quit. They include a R50 000 fine for the owners of a public place who allow smoking in non-smoking area and a R500 fine for the offender. Smoking in private cars where children under 12 years of age are present will be outlawed, and the outdated text warnings on boxes will be replaced by more graphic pictorial warnings.
“We're hoping the use of labels, like mild or low tar, will be banned; because it has been proven that these do not necessarily reduce the risks associated with smoking. It's the biggest fraud in the tobacco industry,” said Dr Saloojee, who has been researching the effects of tobacco usage for 21 years.
“But what we are desperate to see happen is the remodelling of the way tobacco products are taxed, because at the moment smoking is still a very affordable habit for most South African smokers,” Dr Saloojee added.
According to Dr Saloojee, “already one in every 11 deaths worldwide is caused by tobacco usage. Within 20 years, one in every six deaths will be tobacco-related if we don't initiate effective interventions.”
According to Dr Saloojee the only thing required from the smoker is a real desire to stop.
Vanessa Sew Chung Hong, brand manager of Nicorette and an outspoken anti-smoking lobbyist, believes that the answer lies in helping smokers to give up the habit.
“We know that at least 70% of the smoking population are unhappy smokers and we want to help them. We understand that quitting is a journey, but it needn't be a rough road.”
The findings of a World Bank study on tobacco consumption point to the fact that tobacco prices are the main determinant of tobacco consumption. In light of this, NCAS is proposing that government abolish the “lame” 52% excise tax rate on tobacco goods, which they say effectively allows the tobacco companies to dictate tobacco prices. What is needed, according to NCAS, is for the tax to be raised in line with inflation.
“Increasing the price of tobacco products will definitely have an impact on current smokers, and possibly act as a deterrent for teenagers who are thinking of starting to smoke. However this has to go hand in hand with the enforcement of the current legislation such as no smoking in public places, the ban on tobacco advertising and the minimum legal age to purchase tobacco products,” Hong commented.
“We are also very aware of the challenges of tobacco users, most of whom have been tobacco consumers for long periods of time and who are struggling with a substance addiction as powerful as that of heroin or cocaine,” Sew Chung Hong said.
“If you smoke at least 20 cigarettes a day, you are ultimately smoking at least 7300 cigarettes and spending over R8000 a year. You could be spending this money on a holiday in your favourite resort, pay off your bond or invest it in your future. A small investment in a smoking cessation programme – which is far less than the cost of smoking - means you'll live longer and have more money to enjoy the benefits of your healthier lifestyle,” Dr Saloojee concluded.