Lower profit claims go up in smoke
Numerous stakeholders in South Africa have made their voices heard since the publication of the regulations that will ban all indoor smoking in public places and restrict it in public outdoor areas.
Anti-tobacco activists have made it clear that these regulations are not aimed at punishing smokers, but to protect nonsmokers.
Last week various public health organisations responded to the proposed regulations that form part of the Tobacco Products Control Act.
These regulations came under attack from industry bodies, some with clear connections to the tobacco industry. The Free Market Foundation – which counts British American Tobacco and South Africa's tobacco kingpin, Johann Rupert, as its supporters – and the Tobacco Institute of South Africa claimed the regulations infringed on the rights of smokers and would have a negative economic effect on restaurants, casinos and other businesses in the hospitality industry.
Leon Louw of the Free Market Foundation accused the government of trespassing on smokers' constitutional rights and reducing individual autonomy.
"It is a vicious assault on other people's choices and lifestyles by anti-tobacco fanatics and nicotine Nazis," Louw said in an equally vicious statement.
The regulations would in effect ban smoking indoors and restrict outdoor smoking in public areas. Businesses such as restaurants or bars would not be allowed to have any smoking areas, indoors or outdoors, and smoking would not be allowed at outdoor gatherings, on beaches and in parks, except in designated smoking areas. No smoking would be allowed within 10m of a doorway or window.
The regulations are expected to be adopted within a few months, after which some time will be allowed for their implementation.
At last week's press briefing, anti-tobacco activist Dr Yussuf Saloojee was unequivocal that, every day, millions of people in South Africa were still exposed to tobacco smoke against their will.
Official statistics paint a bleak picture. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that, worldwide, smoking kills six million people a year, of whom a staggering 600000 are nonsmokers who die from diseases caused by exposure to second-hand smoke. Various studies have shown that patrons are still exposed to smoke in restaurants despite separate smoking areas.
"There is an old saying: having smoking and nonsmoking areas in the same air space is like having a peeing and a non-peeing area in a pool – it just doesn't work," said Saloojee, executive director of the National Council Against Smoking.
University of Pretoria academic Professor Lekan Ayo-Yusuf is clear that a 100% smoking ban is the only way to eliminate indoor exposure to second-hand smoke. Ayo-Yusuf, who conducted research on the air quality of Pretoria restaurants, found high levels of second-hand tobacco smoke in nonsmoking areas.
The level of tobacco smoke considered safe is by the WHO is 25g/m3, but the average level of tobacco smoke at the eight restaurants studied was 304g/m3 and there were levels as high as 940g/m3. This means that the levels were between 12 and 40 times higher than recommended.
"Separation of smokers from nonsmokers, ventilation systems, air cleaning and filtration are all ineffective strategies to eliminate second-hand smoke exposure and its harmful effects," said Ayo-Yusuf.
Louw's attack prompted last week's gathering of public health organisations.
Moise Muzigaba of the Heart and Stroke Foundation said people had a right to smoke, but they had to keep in mind that "if you are sitting next to me, you are taking away my right to clean air".
Joel Perry of the Cancer Association of South Africa agreed that it was not about the individual saying "you are restricting my right to smoke".
"You are dealing with the tobacco industry and they are engaging various role players, lobbying them to shape legislation and restrict governments from passing public health regulations all around the world," Perry said.
Professor Mac Lukhele, president of the South African Medical Association, said the organisation had recommended bans on smoking and tobacco advertising as far back as 50 years ago.
Saloojee said that, because "the apartheid government supported the tobacco industry", bans had been delayed. Rembrandt was a leading business group in South Africa and the apartheid government wanted to support Afrikaner business at the expense of public health.
"The first Tobacco Products Control Act was only introduced 30 years after the South African Medical Association asked for regulation in 1993, when the transition to democracy was happening," said Saloojee.
Effect on economy
The main objection of the Tobacco Institute of South Africa and the Free Market Foundation have to the new law is the supposed financial effect it would have on the hospitality industry, an objection that has surfaced every time the industry has been under threat. The two groups have claimed that restaurants and bars will lose business if smoking is banned.
However, Professor Corné van Walbeeck of the University of Cape Town disputed this and made available evidence from South Africa and other countries that showed it was untrue.
"If you listen to the hospitality and tobacco industries, one would think that all hell would break lose if the legislation was passed," said Van Walbeeck.
In 2004, he and his colleagues conducted a study on how the 2001 ban on smoking in public places, which allowed for enclosed smoking areas, affected the hospitality industry.
They found that 59.3% of more than 1000 restaurant owners interviewed in their study said that the new smoking legislation had no effect whatsoever on their revenue, and one in five (21.7%) thought it actually contributed to a rise in revenue. The remaining 19% felt the new regulations had a negative financial effect. The study also found that both nonsmokers and smokers had received the new legislation well.
Another University of Cape Town study that scrutinised restaurants' turnover for the same period found no evidence that profits had decreased after the imposition of the clean indoor air legislation in 2001.
"Based on international and South African research, there is no reason to believe that the proposed regulations will have a detrimental impact on the restaurant industry," said Van Walbeeck.
Saloojee said the proposed regulations made business sense, because more than 80% of South Africans were nonsmokers.
"People don't go to restaurants to smoke. To cater for the majority tends to be beneficial to your business," he said.
This article was originally published on health-e.org.za