Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi’s proposed new smoking regulation aimed at banning all smoking in outdoor eating areas, was given a boost by a new study that found harmful levels of secondhand smoke in outside smoking areas.

The concentration of smoke on bar patios in Montreal, Canada, were comparable to areas near a forest fire, said researcher Ryan Kennedy from Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

The air quality tests show that even on a windy day there are dangerous levels of secondhand smoke in outdoor areas, said Kennedy.

“I think what’s important is for us to remember that tobacco smoke is a class-A carcinogen, and any level of exposure bears a risk,” Kennedy said in a report.

In South Africa, the new regulation is expected to come into effect before the end of the year that will not only ban all smoking in outdoor eating areas, often used by restaurants as smoking sections, but also other public outdoor areas such as beaches and sports stadiums.

However, restaurant and bar owners in South Africa and elsewhere have expressed their concern over the impact that an outdoor smoking ban may have on their business – just as they did after smoking was banned inside restaurants and bars.

The Township Liquor Industry Association (TOLIA) released a statement in which it rejected the proposed smoking regulation, saying that it was unrealistic. “The smoking regulations to ban smoking in all public places do not make business sense, are anti job creation and are not sensitive to all cultures and communities. This will only serve to turn townships against Government,” said Gus Ntlokwana of TOLIA.

But Dr Yussuf Saloojee of the National Council Against Smoking argues that it is the government’s responsibility to protect people from harmful environments.

“The law is not only about protecting shebeen patrons, but also the people who work in bars and shebeens. Studies show that waitresses have the highest rates of lung cancer out of any female occupational group because of their exposure to the poisons in secondhand smoke,” Saloojee said.

“The tobacco industry and its partners are always scaremongering about the economic harms smoking regulations will cause but their dire predictions have never come true.”

In 1998 it was claimed that restaurants would go out of business because of the restrictions on smoking, but studies by the University of Cape Town showed that the ban did not affect restaurant sales, and in fact, a small number actually increased sales.

“People go to restaurants and bars to eat, drink and socialise, and not to smoke,” said Saloojee.