Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Wednesday promised much stricter legislation governing tobacco, saying he "hates" the tobacco industry, and all it has caused is mayhem.
Motsoaledi, speaking at the opening of the World Conference on Tobacco or Health being held in Cape Town, was responding to the CEO for the Tobacco, Alcohol and Gambling Advisory, Advocacy and Action Group (TAG), Peter Uck, who said South Africa's tobacco control used to be on par with other global leaders, but has since slacked.
He urged Motsoaledi that the country needs further, stronger legislation.
"Truly speaking, I need no encouragement. I don't need anybody to encourage me, because I can assure you, if there is one person who hates, and is not prepared to apologise to the tobacco industry, it will be myself," Motsoaledi said.
"I do not believe that tobacco contributed anything to the development of humanity on this planet. Whether socially, academically, economically, it never contributed anything. All it caused is mayhem."
"I can assure you that we are going to legislate further and we wish to apologise, even to the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC), that South Africa was ahead of many countries and we slowed down. We are now going to accelerate.
"The legislation that's in the pipeline, it is already in the system of government (sic). We are going to abolish the 25% smoking space in public buildings. I don't want to blame the legislators who gave the 25%, they were putting a foot in the door to open it a little bit. That 25% was a compromise, so now that we have it, we want more. We are doing away with that 25%. We also need to stop this behaviour of just getting out of a building and smoking right there."
Motsoaledi said that when the tobacco control act was passed in 2005, the act did not include e-cigarettes, which meant when you were advertising it, it was not against the law, because it wasn't stipulated in the act.
He said e-cigarettes will now be included in the act – this and all the other nicotine dispensing gadgets that are being used around the country.
"The third thing in advertising was that, even though there is no longer advertising in South Africa, there is still advertising inside the stores. In the legislation we are going to remove the cigarette packets in the transparent cupboards, they must go hide them at the back. We must not expose our children to see those subtle adverts inside the shop.
"And lastly, something that looks extremely stupid, that in the modern era, where even the very highly educated people have become content – it's all of us, I'm not blaming any particular individual – when we write on the cigarette package 'not to be sold to people under the age of 18'. We feel it's powerful and prominent, but then we put cigarette vending machines all over, which don't recognise age. It recognises money. So, we want to abolish all cigarette vending machines in the country."
Last year, BusinessTech reported that several new laws may be on the cards, once the legislation is passed. Motsoaledi had mentioned a few of them, such as the abolishing of smoking in public buildings, which is believed to include designated smoking areas in restaurants.
They added that there would also be the removal of branding, and packaging would only have the specific brand name, along with the warning labels.
Motsoaledi added that there would be "plain packaging" as well, which speaks to the removal of brand-specific package designs and might be replaced by graphic images.
New research, new watchdog
Motsoaledi was speaking at the launch of two World Health Organization (WHO) FCTC South African hubs aimed at improving tobacco control in South Africa.
The Knowledge Hub on Tobacco Taxation will find its home at the University of Cape Town, whereas the African Tobacco Industry Monitoring Centre, which is an observatory to monitor the tobacco industry, has been established at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, in Pretoria.
Motsoaledi highlighted the importance of the two hubs and how privileged the country is to have them. He also said that hopefully, over time, it will lead to the elimination of tobacco products.
"I would like to thank the World Health Organisation and the FCTC Secretariat, in particular, for this investment, not only in our country, but for this continent. These hubs will provide significant capacity to government and civil society, to deal decisively with the tobacco industry.
"We know the tobacco industry is very sneaky. They find all manners and means to increase consumption, as well as their profits. We, therefore, must develop serious fire power to deal with their strategies and tactics. We need to be ahead of the curve; we can no longer afford to be reactive, we must be proactive and see beyond their strategies," said Motsoaledi.
Motsoaledi, along with Mike Bloomberg, CEO of Bloomberg LP and former New York mayor, and WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, officially opened the conference.
The 17th WCTOH takes place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) and it is the first such conference to take place on African soil.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons