Is The Anti-Smoking Legislation An Affront To Freedom?

Plans to amend legislation around smoking and vaping have been in the pipeline for some time now. Two months ago, however, the Department of Health revealed that it would be submitting its plans to the cabinet early this year.

Most people are in favour of stricter smoking laws. It is well-know that smoking is bad for us. We have also heard that it is bad for the people around us. Everybody has the choice, though, whether we would like to inflict harm upon our bodies in the privacy of our own homes or not. We have the choice whether or not to buy cigarettes. We may keep on smoking and yes – we may even to continue with our silly vaping.

Let’s get to the real victims here…

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The New Smoking Laws

Many things are about to change, should this bill be approved by Parliament. The Department of Health’s draft legislation aims to prohibit smoking in all public areas, whether indoors or outdoors. Smoking areas in bars, clubs or restaurants will become a thing of the past, lost forever to the history books. We will not be allowed to smoke anywhere outdoors within 10m of a public entrance or window.

They have plans to ban the display of cigarettes at retailers. What exactly will happen to all the tobacconists is still up in the air. Furthermore, in the government’s wider war against cigarettes, all recognisable branding will be removed from cigarette packs. Only the name of the brand will remain. Presumably in the dullest font imaginable upon a plain, ugly-coloured pack. No doubt they’ll keep the usual smoking warnings. It may also be possible that these will be accompanied by gruesome anti-smoking images. We’ve already seen this implemented in Australia to great effect.

Australia, though, is pretty hard on smokers and the tax on these products is outrageous. To put it into perspective, Australians pay around $29 (R280) for a pack of 20’s, with that price looking to go up to $40 by 2020.

In the last couple of years, though, the smoking population Down Under has plummeted to less than 15%. So, stringent anti-smoking laws and heavy tax do work. It both prevents non-smokers from starting and deters current smokers from continuing.

Furthermore, our DOH will be removing all advertisements for cigarettes, smoking, e-cigarettes and vaping.

These are the key propositions made by our Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi. The DOH is fighting to pass the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Act, in a bid to lower the countrywide smoking rates.

Surely, this is a good thing.


The Problems With This Legislation

The proposed changes are said to be fundamental to both the economy and health of South Africa. According to Savera Kalidan, Executive Director of the National Council Against Smoking, up to 34 000 South Africans die from complications due to smoking every year. For every R1 our health authorities earn from tax, they’re spending R2 on addressing smoking-related health issues.

She went on to say that, in a developing country, a smoking rate of 1 in 5 people is unacceptable.

Sure, smoking is a burden on our healthcare system, and therefore also on insurance and our economy in a roundabout way. And sure, Big Tobacco shouldn’t be advertising and enticing young, impressionable people to take up a harmful habit. And again, sure, non-smokers have the right to their own health and the right to avoid unnecessary, dangerous second-hand smoke.

But, here’s the question…Who gives the government, or the NCAS, the right to dictate what is or is not ‘acceptable’ for us to do to our own bodies?

One organisation leading the fight against it is the Free Market Foundation.

Director Leon Louw, who has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in the past, has spent years fighting against tobacco legislation. Louw claims that the attempt to demonize smoking and smokers is an attack on the personal freedom of citizens, an affront to the dignity of smokers, and an infringement of consumer rights.

Louw, who is a non-smoker, said:

“I have the right to treat my body in an unhealthy way. It is my choice. There are many other bigger killers in the country. Obesity, AIDS, alcohol. But you don’t see legislation forcing people to eat better, use condoms or prohibit fast foods.

“Why not enforce compulsory exercise, condoms, eating healthily? Because that infringes on personal freedom.”


Should The Legislation Be Fought?

Leon Louw went on to say that the government had every right to encourage people to live healthier, but this was not persuasion, rather coercion. Smokers, like all people, have the right to human dignity and the right to bodily integrity.

Even the plain-packaging approach and ban on advertising infringes upon a consumer’s right to information. British American Tobacco has been relatively quiet on the proposed legislation, but when plain-packaging was suggested to the company, it threatened to shut down operations in South Africa.

“When it comes to plain packaging, we have always believed that this policy is disproportionate, will not deliver its intended results and significantly erodes our intellectual property rights by stripping us of our right to use our trademarks.”

The company employs thousands of people, purchases goods and services worth billions from local suppliers and generates billions in tax revenues. These decisions, then, could have a significant knock-on effect in our economy.

So, coupled with the fact that the proposed legislation is unconstitutional, infringes on the rights of individuals and private property owners and could have damaging economic implications, what else is there to worry about?

How about the fact that businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry, and which might cater solely to smokers, will be banned and put out of business?  Non-smokers are invited to these spaces and may choose whether or not to sit there. They do not infringe upon other public spaces.

In effect, the proposed changes are both good and horrifically bad. Where do we draw a line? How much freedom are we satisfied with giving up?

We ask our readers, should this legislation be fought?

Or should it be accepted?

Because today it may be cigarettes, but tomorrow it may be something else. Something you’ve chosen to enjoy.


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