Tobacco bill criminalises law-abiding South Africans

Martin van Staden / Midjourney
Martin van Staden / Midjourney

This article was first published by City Press on 27 May 2024

Instead of pushing through busy-body bills and regulations, such as the Tobacco Bill, the government should be more concerned with fighting genuine criminals and enforcing essential laws. While the Bill is currently languishing in legislative purgatory, it is very likely to eventually become law; a move that will not just damage a lucrative industry that generate mass amounts of tax revenue, but also infringe on South Africans’ freedoms.

The Bill aims to restrict smoking in public, and even some private settings, regulate the use of electronic cigarettes, force all tobacco product packaging to be plain, remove cigarette advertisement at point of sale, and ban cigarette vending machines.

The Bill has come under scrutiny by the industry and some consumers but has received wide support by the usual busy-body movements that think it is their right to police other people’s health and choices.

We should not be wasting time restricting people’s freedoms and damaging a legitimate industry that provides jobs and wealth to the country – especially while we should be focusing on addressing genuinely harmful crimes. Imagine if we dedicated as much effort to addressing gender-based violence as we do to pettily going after peaceful smokers and tobacco companies?

Tobacco companies aren’t forcing people to smoke. And no, advertising isn’t some brainwashing technique that forces people to smoke. This is especially the case considering that the only cigarette advertising currently allowed (which will end under the Bill) is at the point of sale – a place where only current smokers are really going to take notice.

Electronic cigarettes have come under fire for being an alternative addiction to tobacco, rather than a treatment. People become addicted to food, video games, and social media. Should we restrict and ban all those? The answer is no, just in case you think that any of that is viable.

Some people are going to want to smoke electronic cigarettes. That is their right. Restricting their choices in any way is an arbitrary and petty abuse of power.

Property owners should be the only factor involved in determining if smoking is allowed, or not. If a private business wants to allow smoking, or disallow it, that is their right. In terms of public property, the key factor should merely be requiring smokers to not smoke around non-smokers.

Additionally, restricting the tobacco industry from effective marketing and differentiation between their unique brands may cause mass losses for the industry as a whole, costing a fortune in tax revenue and further threatening many much-needed jobs.

The illicit cigarette industry, which serves to fund corrupt politicians and organised crime, will not be affected by the Bill. They will continue to use their lower prices and lack of regulations to undercut legitimate businesses to win over consumers. Already, illegal cigarettes have lost the country billions.

Rather than further regulating and restricting the use of tobacco and nicotine products, we should be figuring out ways to win consumers back to the legitimate tobacco industry so they will no longer be lining the pockets of gangsters. We need to de-regulate legitimate tobacco companies to enable them to out-compete criminal enterprises. The same can also be said of the legalisation of narcotics.

Gangsters fund their violent empires on the drug trade. Allow large and organisation corporations to produce and sell drugs and the gangsters will be put out of business, restricting their ability to bribe officials and cops, while also ensuring they can no longer afford guns and ammunition to wage their wars.

Smoking isn’t a real crime. It is bad for your health. But so is fast food, not exercising, and voting for the ANC. None of these things will or should be regulated, restricted, or criminalised. So, we must end this selective and self-destructive crusade against tobacco and electronic cigarettes, and rather see how this ancient habit can benefit us instead.

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The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation. This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author.

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