The consultation with the Department of Health regarding the socio-economic impacts of the revised Tobacco Bill was held on 13 May, 2021.
Advocate Kgorotlho Moabelo provided a brief overview on the background of the legal process of the Bill and the route it would take going forward after which all representative parties were able to provide verbal comment.
FEDHASA’S input on the Social and economic impact of the draft Bill:
1. Although FEDHASA fully supports the preamble provided in the Bill, we believe that the closure of designated indoor smoking areas as provided for in the draft will not increase the protection of non-smokers from exposure to tobacco product emissions and that it will in fact have the unintended and opposing outcome.
Closing designated indoor smoking areas, more particularly those provided by the accommodation, casino, restaurant and pub sectors of the hospitality industry, will result in smokers having no option but to smoke outdoors in public places resulting in a significant increase in their interaction and direct contact with the non-smoking public.
2. It is through economic necessity that hospitality establishments adapt their businesses to accommodate the needs of a varied and diverse client base which reflects the demographics of the population of South Africa. It is inevitable therefore that most rely on the patronage of both non-smokers and smokers. Any decline in revenue no matter how small will, in the current devastating COVID climate, result in further economic hardship and the potential closure of many marginal hospitality businesses.
3. The South African hospitality sector was already financially compromised pre-Covid-19 which is reflected in the high sector percentage of liquidations within all the liquidations in South Africa. From April 2019 – December 2019, the Catering and Accommodation Trades accounted for 21.9% of liquidations in South Africa. That is a very high percentage. So coming off this negative financial basis – the hospitality and tourism industry was then further devastated by the COVID pandemic and resultant lock-downs. The hospitality sector comprising accommodation establishments, casinos and restaurants, pubs and taverns have been the hardest hit due to the length of the duration of the restricted trading conditions.
As a direct of the dire financial situation the industry finds itself in – currently every effort is c being made to increase domestic travel and to promote international tourism in particular. The draft Bill as it stands at present will no longer permit establishments to provide indoor segregated smoking areas – a product and quality of service that was in the past and will in the future be expected by many visitors from European and Asian countries who do not experience as restrictive a non-smoking environment as will occur in South Africa should the ban be enforced.
4. Besides the probable loss of revenue derived from the smoking public, the closure of designated indoor smoking areas will result in significant costs associated with the renovation and refurbishment of existing smoking facilities in casinos, restaurants, pubs and taverns and the designated smoking bedrooms in accommodation establishments at a time when many in the industry are struggling to survive.
In conclusion, FEDHASA and the members cannot see what possible benefit will be derived from the closure of the existing lawful designated smoking areas in hospitality establishments and we suggest that they should remain open and that such a positive decision will undoubtedly benefit all stakeholders.
According to Advocate Moabelo, when the Bill was published in 2018 it received many responses over the three-month period (he mentioned the figure of 21,000 and he also indicated that a portion of these was fake). He said that as a result of the input – the Bill was revised. Subsequently, FEDHASA asked if it could be advised as to how the bill had been revised, however, he said that it would not be possible to see this revision, since it was now a Cabinet Memorandum and as such was privileged information.
It was also confirmed that the so-called “revised” Bill will be put out for public comment after it has been approved by the cabinet and sent to the National Assembly for deliberation. In addition, once the National Council of Provinces has deliberated on the Bill, this will also be published for further comment. Thus, providing two more opportunities to get our message across.