The department said it was finalising the draft process of the Control of Tobacco products and Nicotine Delivery Systems Bill of 2018, which would push for, among other things, a 100% smoke-free policy in public spaces.
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize confirmed this on Sunday in commemoration of World No Tobacco Day.
The draft law seeks to provide for control over smoking, to regulate the sale and advertising of tobacco products and electronic delivery systems, to regulate the packaging and appearance of tobacco products and electronic delivery systems and to make provision for the standardisation of packaging.
This also includes the prohibition of free distribution of tobacco products and electronic delivery systems.
Mkhize said this move would protect the public from the harmful effects of tobacco use.
The current Act allows for 25% of a public space to be designated as a smoking area, but the revised one will have zero provision for this.
“Tobacco has been reported as a risk factor for coronary heart diseases, causing heart attacks. It also causes several types of cancer, the most prominent being lung cancer. Smoking contributes to a host of other diseases such as stroke, kidney failure and tuberculosis.
“Tobacco kills half of those who use it and shortens the life of users by 10 years, with the last years of life spent gasping for breath when walking or suffering heart attacks and heart failure,” Mkhize said.
He said South Africa was one of the first countries to protect children from tobacco by banning the sale of cigarettes to and by minors, banning advertising, promotion and sponsorship of sporting and social events by tobacco companies, and prohibiting smoking in a car when children under the age of 12 are present.
The minister said for approximately 20% of adults who are smokers, the recent period of Covid-19 lockdown provided an opportunity to try to quit.
“In South Africa research shows people start smoking from as young as nine years of age, but the peak period for onset of smoking in life is 15 to 20 years.
“Comprehensive and inter-sectoral tobacco control health promotion strategies implemented in South Africa, led by the government, have led to a gradual reduction in cigarette use among school learners – up to 25% reductions during one 15-year period from 1996 to 2011,” he said.
Besides the health benefits that came with a tobacco-free society, Mkhize said avoiding or quitting tobacco use relieves poverty as money previously spent on cigarettes could be spent on food and other essentials.
Anti-tobacco activist Dr Yussuf Saloojee said Covid-19 provided a good opportunity for smokers to quit, but the challenge was to maintain the momentum.
“The challenge is to ensure the one million people who stopped smoking do not go back to smoking, and that the young people who did not start remain non-smokers. That emphasises the importance of the tobacco bill, and of government increasing the tax on tobacco,” Saloojee said.