Anti-tobacco activists have made it clear that these regulations are not aimed at punishing smokers, but rather protect non-smokers.

Last week various public health organisations responded to the proposed regulations that form part of the Tobacco Products Control Act.

These regulations came under vicious attack from industry bodies, some with clear connections to the tobacco industry. The Free Market Foundation (FMF) ‘€“ which counts British American Tobacco and South Africa’€™s tobacco kingpin Johann Rupert as its supporters – and the Tobacco Institute of South Africa (Tisa) claimed that the regulations infringe on the rights of smokers and would have a negative economic impact on restaurants, casinos and other businesses in the hospitality industry.

Attacking the new regulations, Leon Louw of the FMF accused government of trespassing on smokers’€™ constitutional rights and reducing individual autonomy. ‘€œIt is a vicious assault on other peoples choices and lifestyles’€¦ by anti-tobacco fanatics and nicotine nazis,’€ Louw said in an equally vicious statement.

The new regulations will effectively ban all smoking indoors and restrict outdoor smoking in all public areas. Under the new law, businesses such as restaurants or bars will not be allowed to have any smoking areas indoors or outdoors, and smoking will not be allowed at outdoor gatherings, beaches, and parks, except in designated smoking areas. No smoking will also be allowed within 10 meters from a doorway or window.

For example, those who currently attend sports events at big stadiums opt to smoke in the passageways, offering no protection from secondhand smoke, while various studies have shown that patrons are still exposed to smoke in restaurants despite separate smoking areas.

The regulations are expected to be adopted within a few months, after which some time will be allowed for implementation.

At last week’€™s press briefing, one of the world’€™s foremost anti-tobacco activists Dr Yussuf Saloojee was unequivocal that everyday millions of people in South Africa are still exposed to tobacco smoke against their will.

Official statistics paint a bleak picture with the World Health Organisation estimating that worldwide smoking kills six million people a year, of which a staggering 600  000 are non-smokers who die from disease caused by exposure to second-hand smoke.

‘€œThere is an old saying: having smoking and a non-smoking areas in the same air space is like having a peeing and a non-peeing area in a pool ‘€“ it just doesn’€™t work,’€ quipped Salooyee, executive director of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS).

University of Pretoria academic Professor Lekan Ayo-Yusuf is clear that a 100 percent smoking ban is the only means of effectively eliminating indoor exposure to second-hand smoke.

Ayo-Yusuf, who conducted research on the air-quality of Pretoria restaurants, found high levels of second-hand tobacco smoke in non-smoking areas. The recommended level of tobacco smoke considered safe by the WHO is 25 µg/m3, but the average level of tobacco smoke at the eight restaurants studied were 304 µg/m3, with levels as reaching as high as 940 µg/m3. This means that the levels were between 12 and almost 40 times higher than was is recommended.

‘€œSeparation of smokers from non-smokers, ventilation systems, air cleaning and filtration are all ineffective strategies to eliminate second-hand smoke exposure and its harmful effects,’€ according to Ayo-Yusuf.

Smokers’€™ rights

Louw’€™s attack prompted last week’€™s coming together by public health organisations who know too well the impact of smoking on the health systems.

Moise Muzigaba of the Heart and Stroke Foundation points out that of course people can say that they have a right to smoke, but that that had to keep in mind that ‘€œif you are sitting next to me, you are taking away my right to clean air’€.

Joel Perry of the Cancer Association of South Africa, agrees that it is is not about the individual saying ‘€˜you are restricting my right to smoke’€™.

 ‘€œYou are dealing with [the tobacco] industry, and they are engaging various role players, lobbying them to shape legislation and restrict governments from passing public health regulations all around the world,’€ he warned.

Impact on economy

The main objection Tisa and the FMF voiced with the new law is the supposed financial impact it would have on the hospitality industry, an objection which surfaces every time their industry is under threat. They claim that restaurants and bars would lose business if smoking banned.

However, Professor Corné van Walbeeck of the University of Cape Town disputes this, making available evidence from South Africa and other countries, showing this is not the case: ‘€œIf you listen to the hospitality and tobacco industries one would think that all hell is going to break lose if the legislation is going to pass.’€

In 2004, Van Walbeeck and colleagues conducted a study on how the hospitality industry was impacted by the 2001 ban on smoking in public places which allowed for enclosed smoking areas. They found that more than half (59,3%) of over a thousand restaurant owners interviewed in their study said that the new smoking legislation made no impact whatsoever on their revenue, and a further one in five (21,7%) thought it actually contributed to a rise in revenue. The remaining 19% felt the new regulations had a negative financial impact.

The same study also found that the new legislation was well received by non-smokers as well as smokers.

Another UCT study that scrutinised the actual turnover of restaurants for the same period found no evidence that restaurant turnover decreased after the imposition of the clean indoor air legislation in 2001. ‘€œTherefore, based on international and South African research there is no reason to believe that the proposed regulations will have a detrimental impact on the restaurant industry,’€ said Van Walbeeck.

Saloojee argues that the proposed regulations make business senses as more than 80 percent of South Africans are non-smokers. ‘€œPeople don’€™t go to restaurants to smoke’€¦to cater for the majority tends to be beneficial to your business,’€ he said.

Tobacco’€™s links to the apartheid government

Health professional and president of the South African Medical Association, Professor Mac Lukhele, points our that the health worker body recommended bans on smoking and tobacco advertising as far back as 50 years ago.

Saloojee believes that the delay in acting was because ‘€œthe apartheid government supported the tobacco industry. Rembrandt was a leading Afrikaner business group in South Africa and the apartheid government wanted to support Afrikaner business at the expense of public health.

‘€œThe first Tobacco Products Control Act was only introduced 30 years after SAMA asked for regulation in 1993 when the transition to democracy was happening,’€ said Saloojee.  

So, while those in opposing the new regulations are making as much noise as possible, their message does appear to ring hollow in a world where hundreds of thousands are still dying from diseases related to their exposure to secondhand smoke.

And as Saloojee reminds us ‘€œtobacco is the only legal product that, when used according to the manufacturer’€™s instruction, kills the user.’€