Infringements on people's rights

Musa Ntshangase, general secretary, Gauteng Liquor Forum

Freedom of choice is the right to choose what you want to do without putting other people in danger. The World Health Organisation wants to enforce a 100% ban on tobacco smoking, ignoring the rights of other people and the economic impact of such a ban all over the world. I’m not being insensitive to the negative health effects of smoking tobacco, but we should look at this in both ways, economically and health-wise.

While most laws are created to protect the best interests of the society, some laws are just illogical and impractical. Some legislation defies logic,it is not enforceable. Imposing unrealistic legislation is an unjust exercise of authority. Unlike water, people do not flow in the same direction. You can take the horse to the river but it will be difficult to make it drink water. This is going to have unintended consequences. Educate people about the dangers of tobacco smoking, but do not impose draconian laws on them.

TheWorld Health Organisation's Global Health Observatory data shows the prevalence of smoking tobacco and statistics. Leading countries in tobacco smoking are Asian countries, followed by European and American countries. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest smoking rate. Why do African countries have the lowest smoking rate? It is because Africans were colonised, segregated, brainwashed and made to believe that smoking cigarettes and drinking alcoholic beverages were for white people. Even in our diverse African cultures, only elderly men were smoking, not young men, girls and women.

While most laws are created to protect the best interests of the society, some laws are just illogical and impractical.

In 2013, the Ministry of Health introduced the new tobacco regulations which we felt were completely unrealistic. We argued that these regulations were going to affect our business. Our leadership then jointly had a live radio interview with the Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, and the minister promised to consult with liquor traders associations before publishing the new tobacco bill.

On 9 May 2018, the Minister of Health published the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill for comment. Ninety days were provided for the public to make submissions, closing on 8 August 2018. The Minister failed to consult and we were disappointed to see the Bill published without consultation.

The new tobacco Bill seeks to ban smoking in public areas, close all indoor designated smoking areas, remove all branding from cigarette packets, and stop smoking next to windows, walkways and doors. It also seeks to ban the display of tobacco products and ban vending machines selling tobacco products. This Bill was drafted without consideration of the impact on businesses in the townships.

While the whole country is suffering economically, nobody feels this pressure more than the small and micro businesses and communities in our townships. Some bureaucrats think it is OK to mess with other people’s lives even when people are living in harmony with each other.

The Minister is projecting himself as a champion of healthy lifestyles while infringing on other people’s rights. Freedom of choice is the right to do what you want to do without affecting others around you. The current existing law dictates that we build separate smoking areas. We spent monies building designated smoking areas. Now they are banning them. Who is going to pay the costs?

The ANC government is alienating thousands of voters by introducing unrealistic, impractical and nonsensical regulations, just because they now live in suburbs. They are now totally disconnected from the people who put them in power and ignoring the rights of other people. All this is done without proper consultation.

These smoke-free policies from first world countries will never work in South Africa, especially in the townships. A township is an underdeveloped segregated urban area. Our properties are only 20 square meters. The new proposed regulation says when you want to smoke, you must do it away from the window, away from the door and away from the walkway. That means you will be going outside the premises. If a woman walks out of the premises to smoke, they will be risking getting raped.

GLF is calling on the government to scrap the new Bill and enforce the existing laws. We call on government to consult before passing any laws and we call on government to consider education as an alternative.