Cape Town - South Africa is aiming to follow Australia's lead and compel tobacco companies to use plain packaging for their tobacco products, MPs heard on Wednesday.
"We will... be testing plain packaging... (which) means there will be no branding on tobacco products," health department director for health promotion Vimla Moodley said.
Briefing members of Parliament's health portfolio committee on proposed new smoking regulations, she said the department was also testing the use of "pictorials" on tobacco packaging.
These were pictures of the "health consequences" of smoking.
"Up to now, the regulations allowed for text messages (showing) health warnings, for example 'tobacco is harmful to your health'.
"But in terms of international guidelines... we need to introduce pictorials, which are pictures of health consequences on tobacco products."
The department was currently testing pictorials, and the health messages that went with them, in Gauteng and the Western Cape.
Reports on these would be completed by December this year.
On the introduction of laws compelling tobacco manufacturers to use plain, non-branded packaging, Moodley noted that Australia had recently done this.
"We are keen to test this and if there is... support for it, we will go this route," she said.
Australia's plain-packaging laws were fiercely opposed by tobacco companies, but the manufacturers received a set-back last month when the country's highest court endorsed the new regulations, which are set to take effect on December 1 this year.
Speaking after the briefing, Moodley said the new South African regulations - which are still subject to review - could be ready by as early as next year.
The proposed regulations also seek to ban smoking in public places and "certain outdoor places".
Moodley told the committee that current regulations allow 25% of the floor space in a restaurant or an indoor facility be designated a smoking area.
"With this set of regulations... indoor public spaces will now be 100% smoke free... Those places will no longer have a space for indoor public tobacco use."
Other areas the department was seeking to make 100% smoke free included "entrances to public spaces, outdoor eating and drinking areas, health facilities, schools, child-care facilities, covered walkways and in stadiums", she said.
According to a document tabled at the briefing, so-called "smoking prevalence" in South Africa is declining, though about 44 400 deaths in the country each year are "related directly to tobacco".
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