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The tobacco control bill: defending human rights

Tobacco affects our human rights to life, health and a healthy environment, and must be better regulated, say South Africa’s prominent health organisations forming part of the #protectournext movement. With International Human Rights Day falling on December 10th, these organisations including the National Council Against Smoking, CANSA, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) are joining others around the world in calling for bold action in tobacco control to protect our right to health.  The 2020 theme, ‘Recover Better - Stand Up for Human Rights’ relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to build back better by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts.


Dr. Sharon Nyatsanza of NCAS says, “This Human Rights Day we’re highlighting how many rights tobacco impacts, and how the Control of Tobacco and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill will better protect our rights once passed. Smoking negatively impacts the right to life, right to health, children’s rights, women’s rights, and our right to a healthy environment at work and at home.  It is one of the leading cause of preventable death, claiming 115 lives a day in South Africa. Current evidence also shows that Covid-19 negatively affects people with a history of smoking. Our government continues to act swiftly in protecting public health from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, tobacco is another pandemic that needs urgent action to protect our rights.”

South Africa, as a signatory to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), is in fact obligated to take action, says Nyatsanza.  “Passing South Africa’s Tobacco Control Bill is a critical step to defend our nation’s right to health.”   Dr. Nyatsanza outlines the key rights affected by tobacco, and how the new tobacco control bill is designed to better protect all South Africans from tobacco harm.  


Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death globally, in South Africa 42 100 people lose their lives to tobacco caused illnesses each year. The production and marketing and sale of violates basic rights to life and health and a healthy environment.  Tobacco products are the only legally available consumer products that kill over 50% of users when used exactly as intended. 


Tobacco use prevents us from achieving the highest attainable standard of health. Human rights principles justify protecting individuals from the harms of smoking and nicotine addiction. We have a right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including the prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases. 

Smoking is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases. Smoking results in more than half of lung cancer deaths, and over 20% of tuberculosis (TB) deaths. As with many lung-related diseases, tobacco use increases the risk of contracting tuberculosis and impairs patients’ response to treatment. Current evidence shows that the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) negatively affects people with a history of smoking. 


The dangers posed by second-hand smoke violate the rights of non-smokers especially children, affecting their rights to life, health and a clean and safe environment. Exposure to second-hand smoke, particularly for children, leads to middle ear infections, respiratory diseases including asthma, the worsening of serious conditions such as cystic fibrosis and asthma, and in some cases, death.

Many adolescents are tempted into experimentation with cigarette smoking, and now e-cigarettes, at a fragile time when they can’t fully grasp the addictive grip of nicotine and the health impacts they will later experience. The body of research showing the health harm arising from e-cigarette use, which are popular among young people, continues to expand. Implementing appropriate graphic health warnings and restrictions to stop marketing tactics directed at children is important in promoting child rights.

Tobacco use also impacts children’s rights to education, as money spent on tobacco can be spent on education and other needs. In developing countries we also see child labour in tobacco production which denies children an education.


Smoking at work impacts the health of all. There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke and it is important to remember that the only way to protect people from the health risks associated with exposure to second-hand smoke is to have 100% smoke free workplaces and indoor public areas. Engineering approaches such as ventilation or air cleaning technologies cannot be relied upon to reduce the health risks.



Cigarette smoking causes environmental pollution by releasing toxic air pollutants into the atmosphere. The entire production and consumption process of cigarettes has many negative impacts on the environment, from growing and manufacturing to smoke and litter. Toxic chemicals in the residues seep into soils and waterways. 


Protecting our rights 
The Tobacco Control Bill requires that any enclosed public area is 100% smoke-free, and will make certain outdoor public places smoke-free too.  It removes the current requirement to provide for smoking areas in all enclosed public places, workplaces and on public conveyances and applies the 100% smoking ban to common areas of multi-unit residences. It further prohibits smoking in private dwellings used for commercial child care or education, and in cars carrying children under 18. 

The Bill introduces uniform plain packaging for all brands and pictorial warnings on all packages. The Bill will stop cigarette advertising at tills and the sale of cigarettes through vending machines. The Bill also includes the regulation of e-cigarettes and when passed, e-cigarettes will finally fall under the same regulations as cigarettes.

“Together with our partner organisations, we support the Tobacco Control Bill as a comprehensive piece of legislation that will better defend our right to health. It’s time for our government to show leadership in the fight to protect our human rights by ensuring that the Bill is passed with urgency,” says Nyatsanza. 


Join #protectournext partners at the Festival of Lights at Johannesburg Zoo for more information, on until 3 January.  Follow @protectournext on social platforms. 






Call the National Council Against Smoking - Quitline at 011 720 3145 for tips to help you stop smoking. www.againstsmoking.co.za

CANSA runs an online programme which also provides support and information for smokers who would like to stop smoking on http://www.ekickbutt.org.za/.


Media contact:

Tamaryn Brown

Connect Transmedia


+ 27 (0) 84 3510560

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Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that in South Africa (SA) alone, smoking results in more than half of lung cancer deaths, 37% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease deaths, and over 20% of cardiovascular deaths and tuberculosis (TB) deaths. Smoking-related TB deaths are especially prevalent in South Africa, due to a higher vulnerability of HIV-positive individuals to TB.  Because it attacks the lungs, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke or vape.

The new Control of Tobacco and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill will make it easier for South Africans to choose smoke-free lives, regulate the danger of e-cigarettes and decrease the impact of second-hand smoke on the majority of the population, who are non-smokers. Why is taking time to implement? Tobacco industry profits are at the expense of addicted smokers, their families, and public health.  Together, the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa are steadfast in campaigning for the new Bill to be passed. It’s time for our people and our government to show leadership in implementing global best practice to curb the onslaught of big tobacco. 

Zanele Mthembu, Public Health Development and Policy Consultant

Savera Kalideen, Executive Director of the National Council Against Smoking 

Sharon Nyatsanza, Project and Communications Manager, National Council Against Smoking 

Lorraine Govender, National Advocacy Co-Ordinator, Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA)

Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO, The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa

Dr Catherine Egbe, Specialist Scientist: Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drug Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council

Tamaryn Brown
Connect Media for Cart Agency
+27 (0) 84 3510560

Nirvana Kishoon 
Cart Agency
+27 (0) 82 823 3167


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