It is estimated that 22 percent of South African smoke, which is a huge reduction from ten years ago. However, the aim is much more ambitious.
Mid-2012, with the public debate about the amendments to the South African Tobacco Products Control Act drawing to a close, the opponents seem to be getting more and more desperate. They are labelling the proposed bill as unconstitutional, impractical and ill-considered and are mentioning attack on freedoms, intrusion on people's rights and lifestyle and state nannyism. According to the opponents, the proposed legislation is impossible to implement and will worsen the problem of the black market cigarette trade, benefiting only sellers of electronic cigarettes.
Smokers and businesses that are even tentatively linked with tobacco smoking, from manufacturers to restaurant owners, are understandably despondent. If the proposed set of rules is approved, it will effectively spell a ban on smoking practically everywhere in South Africa, save in one’s own house.
And it probably will be approved. One survey shows that 90% of non-smokers and 73% of smokers support laws to regulate smoking in public places. “Sounds tough, but the government is getting this one right”, says one online commentator. “Just one lit cigarette in a crowd is as noticeable as a bull in a parlour room”, says another.
The proposed amendments to the South African Tobacco Products Control Act, put forward by the Department of Health, call for a ban on smoking in any public place, including restaurants, bars and shebeens, as well as within 10 metres of a window to a public place and within 50 metres of a non-smoker on the beaches.
Smoking will be prohibited at outdoor events, including any public gathering for entertainment, sporting or educational purposes, including stadiums, arenas, sports facilities, playgrounds, zoos, premises of schools or childcare facilities, health facilities, outdoor eating or drinking areas, venues where outdoor events take place, covered walkways and covered parking areas. It will also not be possible to light up in service areas and in lines where people gather to wait for a service, such as queues for ATMs, taxi ranks and ticket lines.
Employers and the owners of restaurants would be allowed to demarcate an outdoor area for smokers, subject to stringent conditions, aimed at discouraging smokers from remaining in the area longer than is necessary to smoke.
The supporters of the new bill say that twelve years ago South Africa was among world leaders in anti-smoking legislation, but has since fallen behind.
South Africa has some of the most stringent restrictions on the sale, advertising and consumption of tobacco. Smoking in public places has been regulated since the 1960s. It was first ushered out of cinemas and theatres, in order to reduce the risk of fires. In the mid-1980s, it flew out of domestic air flights. Subsequently, an array of restrictions was adopted: on smoking in indoor public places, child-care facilities, public transport, as well as in restaurants, pubs and offices with no designated smoking areas, in shopping malls, and even in some hotel rooms. In 2009 the government banned smoking in partially enclosed public places such as covered patios, verandas, balconies, walkways and parking areas, as well as smoking in cars where there were children under the age of 12 present. Children under the age of 18 were also prohibited from entering designated smoking areas and purchasing cigarettes.
The generally high levels of compliance with the current smoking laws confirm a public preference for smoke free areas.
Anti-smoking bodies say they are pleased with results so far. In 2012, smoking prevalence among adult South Africans is estimated at about 22 percents. In the 1990s, that percentage was around 37 percent. And the aim is to reduce the prevalence of smoking to five percent in the next three decades, which would make South Africa practically tobacco smoke-free.