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New Tobacco Bill totally unworkable in SA townships, will further damage small biz

| Legislation

A collective of national township associations, representing close to 20 000 restaurants, taverns and small business traders, and their many thousands of township consumers, are up in arms over a new tobacco control bill they believe is impossible to implement or enforce in the township environment.

The Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill (Tobacco Bill), was published in May, with the official comment period closing tomorrow, 8 August, 2018. 

The Gauteng Liquor Forum (10 000 members), National Tourism Hospitality Association (4000 members), Eastern Cape Liquor Forum (3000 members), the Western Cape Liquor Traders (1000 members) and the Cape Flats Shebeeners Association (500 members) have submitted their objections to the Bill and are calling on Government to scrap it, saying the last thing struggling townships need are more extreme laws that damage their ability to make an honest living and feed their families.

To drive their argument against the Bill home, the associations surveyed 800 tavern and small business owners employing over 2000 people, in three provinces, to understand how they felt about the proposed new laws. They also captured the concerns of taverners and small business owners to illustrate the concerns raised in the survey. [Insert link to videos].

One of the most contentious provisions of the Bill is Clause 2, which bans smoking in public places.   The Minister of Health has said that he will ban smoking within 10 metres of any doorway, window or walkway. The associations say there is not one area, in any township in South Africa, where such a 10 metre area exists. The clause also gives the Minister of Health the power to prohibit smoking in any public place of his choosing.  

“The 10-metre ban is completely impractical.  Can you imagine finding such a place in Alexandra or Khayelitsha?   Even 2 metres is ridiculous, because you will be right in front of your neighbour’s door.  In Alex, a smoker will need to walk outside the township to find a legal place to smoke a legal product,” says Fanny Mokoena, President of Gauteng Liquor Forum (GLF) and the National Tourism Hospitality Association (NTHA). 

“The new law will, without a doubt, put the lives of our patrons at risk.  Our customers could get raped, mugged or even killed walking to find a place where it is legal to smoke.  Also, there are laws that say you cannot take your drink outside, so a customer will need to leave their drink behind, where it could be spiked with a drug,” says Mokoena.

85% of township business owners interviewed as part of the survey said they opposed the proposed ban on public smoking.   92% of business owners surveyed said the new laws, if implemented, would criminalise small business.  

“Unfortunately, with the best intentions, our Government has taken first world laws and want to apply them in a township environment, and this is completely unworkable.  There is no place in any township in South Africa where it will be legal for anyone to smoke. 

“The effect of the Bill will be to instantly criminalise all small businesses that sell tobacco products and many thousands of people in our communities,” continued Mokoena.

The penalties are hefty.  If the Bill is approved, tavern, spaza and restaurant owners could face 1 year in prison for not preventing a smoker from smoking 10 metres from a doorway, window or walkway.  The smoker will also face a year in prison.   

“We believe that the fines are unnecessary and excessive,” says Mokoena.

The Bill also bans indoor smoking.  The current law allows 25% of the floor space of a tavern or restaurant to be converted into a smoking area, provided that establishment has invested in ensuring these areas comply with the law.

90% of those surveyed believe the current smoking laws work and 76% believe that the ban of indoor smoking areas will create problems between customers and the business owners. 

Eastern Cape Liquor Forum President, Winston Hector, says:  “Government asked us to invest in enclosing smoking areas, which we did, at great expense.  Now they are asking us to invest in knocking them down.  It is not fair to ask small businesses to pay for this again.

“In fact, we don’t understand why the new law is needed at all. The current one works just fine, and both smokers and non-smokers coexist peacefully.  They are not fighting with each other, but respect each other’s rights and space, like the adults that they are.”

The key issue for Phumzile Ratladi, tavern owner and Head of Communications at GLF, is that some taverns will abide by the laws and others won’t, which means that the law-abiding taverns will lose their customers to those that don’t.   She is also concerned that corrupt police will use the laws to extort bribes from both taverns and their customers.  

55% of those surveyed thought the new Bill would lead to increased corruption from police officers that would target businesses and customers that do not comply. 

Ben Mdebuka, representing taverners from the Western Cape, is deeply concerned that the Government has not consulted their members about the new Bill. “Our survey results show that 88% of those we interviewed feel that Government does not consult enough before passing laws and 89% said they have never been consulted about any legislation affecting their business.”

He said that while the associations support Government’s objective of a healthy nation, they demand the following:

  1. We call on Government to scrap the new Bill and to enforce the current Act, which already takes into account the rights of all South Africans.  If Government is unwilling to do this, we demand that township business and their communities be exempted from these extreme laws.
  2. We call on Government to consult meaningfully with their constituencies before the introduction of new laws.
  3. We call on Government to consider education as an alternative to meeting its objective for a healthy nation.  Extreme new legislation is a short cut that will destroy our township economy.


Musa Ntshangase, Secretary of the GLF, said in closing:  “While the whole country is suffering economically, nobody feels this pressure more than the small and micro businesses and communities in our townships. Our President has promised that his new government will work to make doing business easier, but this legislation is doing the exact opposite.

“Just last week, President Ramaphosa said that one of its critical priorities is to make it easy for small business to succeed.  Well, Mr President, we asked over 800 township business owners across South Africa if these laws would affect how they vote in the next election, and 84% said that it would. 

“The ANC government must be very careful not to alienate thousands of voters by introducing unrealistic, unworkable laws that are impossible to implement in townships.  Our politicians are totally disconnected with the people who put them in power,” Ntshangase concluded.

·         Bill was drafted without consideration of impact on township communities and businesses

·         New laws will criminalise all business owners that sell cigarette products

·         Government risks alienating voters by introducing laws that are impossible to implement or enforce in townships.




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