Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Nafcoc) has joined the growing chorus of calls for government to scap its proposed new tobacco laws.

Several lobby groups and business organisations have already warned that the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill will hurt the economy and lead to job losses. The bill seeks to, among other measures, control and ban smoking in public areas, limit the display of tobacco products at point of sale, and introduce plain packaging of tobacco products. The Department of Health says stricter tobacco laws will further reduce tobacco use and prevent millions of people dying from tobacco related illnesses such as heart attacks and strokes. The deadline for public comments on the bill was on Thursday.

Nafcoc, which seeks to promote and encourage the development of small businesses, said the bill, particularly the introduction of plain packaging, seems to be in direct conflict with SA’s competition policy.

"We are also concerned about potential damage to the economy by the proposed bill, such as reducing free and fair competition," said Nafcoc president Lawrence Mavundla.

"Marketing is not only a right for businesses, but, more importantly, a consumer right. The tobacco bill seems to be in direct conflict with South Africa’s competition policy as they reduce the right of producers to compete and the right of consumers to choose. It also occurs to us that there will be an increase in tobacco smuggling, already apparently on the rise, as legal producers find it harder to reach their consumers," said Mavundla.

He said while the chamber was as concerned as the government about the health and well-being of South Africa’s citizens, "we do not believe, however, that personal freedom, gained at enormous cost during the struggle for democracy and protected in our Constitution, should be compromised by excessive intervention. We are concerned that anti-tobacco laws do just that."

"The government has done much to educate adults about the potential harm done by smoking. Limiting the display and accessibility of tobacco undermines the rights of citizens who, in a free society, are after all free to decide whether to smoke or not…In light of the fact that tobacco is a legal product, we propose that the bill be scrapped completely and that existing controls be properly implemented," said Mavundla.

The Cape Town based Independent Entrepreneurship Group, a non-profit association which seeks to promote public policies that enable entrepreneurship, said the bill may lead to the unintended consequence of an increase in illicit tobacco consumption.

"This will result in a negative economic impact on the country in terms of lost revenue for the fiscus. A rise in illicit tobacco consumption will also have negative consequences for the retail sector, from agricultural producers to consumer facing establishments. This will result in job losses throughout the value chain… the bill is bad for consumers, bad for small business, bad for the economy and bad for democracy – it should be scrapped," the group said.

Pietman Roos, the head of corporate affairs and communication at agricultural industry body Agri SA, said if the bill is enacted, the combined 8 000 jobs of commercial and emerging tobacco farmers in the rural communities of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the North West, will be endangered.

"The South African tobacco industry is already thoroughly regulated, and any further intervention will be counter-productive in terms of public health and crime prevention…the plain packaging provisions will also decimate an entire value chain, infringe the constitutional rights of tax-paying companies, and lead to an increase in illicit trade," said Roos.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za