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South Africa’s Tobacco Control & Electronic Delivery Systems Bill

According to the Tobacco Atlas, about 6.5 Million South Africans continue to smoke cigarettes every day. Many smokers in South Africa are unable — or at least unwilling — to achieve cessation through complete nicotine and tobacco abstinence; they continue smoking despite the very real and obvious adverse health consequences. Conventional smoking cessation policies and programs generally present smokers with two unpleasant alternatives: quit or die.

South Africa made significant strides in the fight against tobacco between 1993 and 2010. During that period, several important pieces of legislation were introduced, starting with the Tobacco Products Control Act (TPCA) 83 of 1993 — the main legislation governing tobacco control efforts in the country. It was amended three times over a fifteen-year period with of the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Act 12 of 1999 (which came into force on 1 January 2001), the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Act 23 of 2007, and the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Act 63 of 2008, both of which came into force on 21 August 2009.

Currently, the country is discussing a new Tobacco Control Bill which will regulate not only tobacco products such as combustible cigarettes but also electronic delivery systems. In the draft Bill, there is practically no distinction between conventional tobacco products and products with the potential to reduce risk to consumers. The health ministry should seek legislation that draws a distinction between conventional tobacco products, such as cigarettes, and those that pose less of a risk to consumers.

The regulation of smokeless tobacco harm reduction products like e-cigarettes should not be modeled on the regulation of conventional cigarettes. If South Africa wants to see a decrease in the number of smoking related deaths, the Ministry of Health should create an exemption on the new tobacco bill that would enable the provision of information to consumers about electronic cigarettes, snus and heat-not-burn technology products developed to reduce harm compared to combustibles. The Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill, gazetted for public comment on May 9, contains provisions that prohibit all tobacco product advertising. Keeping current smokers informed of options available to them, especially new or better options, are critical in the fight against tobacco.

The Tobacco control bill should create and maintain an allowance for an exemption within the Bill for new science, innovation and technology. Under the current legislation, which will be replaced by the new bill, there exists an exemption which allows the Minister to exempt certain products. It would only make sense to maintain this clause in the new bill, especially as it allows for flexibility in light of new scientific breakthroughs in the future.

Many smokers are well aware that quitting is the best option, yet they choose to continue smoking and no doubt will continue despite even the more stringent measures being proposed in the draft bill. Therefore, room for safer alternatives should be created to assist smokers in quitting or switching. It is a well-known fact that the smoker smokes for the nicotine but dies from the tar. If at we are to see a significant decrease in tobacco deaths on the continent, health ministries and legislators should embrace harm reduction.Fair regulation of safer alternatives will ensure reduced deaths from tobacco related diseases in South Africa .

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