Mar 2007

Tobacco laws: We have a right to clean air

Tobacco causes 30 000 deaths a year in South Africa, said Dr Yussuf Saloojee, Director of the National Council Against Smoking. He was speaking to Parliament's health portfolio committee in January. 

Domestic workers and children 

Second-hand smoke breathed in from smokers' cigarettes, is harmful to non-smokers.

The committee talked about possible new laws that would protect children in cars and domestic workers in houses from second-hand tobacco smoke.

Salojee said it was wrong that present laws did not include private homes in the definition of "workplace." He also said smoking should be banned in cars with children. 

Why tobacco laws? 

Government cannot stop people from smoking because everyone has the right to choose how to behave. But everyone also has a right to clean air and an environment that is not harmful to their health.

Tobacco laws are necessary to protect people from the harmful effects of smoking.

The country's economy as a whole also suffers as a result of smoking-related illness. It causes a loss of productivity in the workplace. It also causes breadwinners to die from diseases like lung cancer and heart attacks. 

The Medical Research Council found in a study that for every R1 the government received from taxes on cigarettes, R2 was spent on treating illnesses caused by tobacco and on loss of productivity.

Inform and educate 

Tobacco laws are also necessary to help inform and educate people about the dangers of smoking. For example, warnings have to be printed on cigarette packets by law, telling people that smoking causes cancer.

Laws make it more difficult for smokers to keep up the habit. Limitations on smoking means that people who already smoke are encouraged to smoke less, or to stop smoking altogether.

People who have never smoked may be put off from starting to smoke. For example, if smokers in offices have to go to special areas to smoke instead of smoking at their desks, or if they can't smoke in restaurants and other public places, they may find it easier not to smoke at all.

"Light" cigarettes 

Studies have shown that switching to "light" cigarettes does not reduce the dangers of smoking. Most people are not aware of this.

If the suggested new tobacco laws are passed, all harmful items that go into cigarettes must be made known.

- Louise van Niekerk

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