- The Tax Justice South Africa group says that the current cigarette ban is serving no purpose but to spread an 'epidemic of crime'
- Tobacco and alcohol sales are expected to be allowed once more at Level 3 of the Covid-19 lockdown
- However, Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma wants to see the ban lifted only at Level 1
The cigarette ban is spreading an epidemic of crime and suffocating the ailing economy, Tax Justice South Africa (TJSA) said on Friday.
TJSA founder Yusuf Abramjee says: “In its efforts to fight the health pandemic the Government has imposed an indefensible prohibition that has spawned a national epidemic of crime.
“Illegal trade is booming as the cigarette ban enriches criminals exploiting desperate smokers, impoverishes struggling families driven to pay sky-high prices and loots state coffers that are losing R35 million a day in taxes.
“Economists and scientists say the ban serves no purpose in the fight to combat Covid-19. Instead, it is driving South Africa’s 11 million smokers to break the law and even turning schoolchildren into illegal dealers. It is suffocating our comatose economy when it urgently needs an injection of money to fight the virus, protect the vulnerable and feed the poor.”
A University of Cape Town study has found that more than 90% of smokers have bought illegal cigarettes during lockdown. The ban is entrenching criminal networks that will be hard to remove after the health crisis, the researchers concluded.
Professor Glenda Gray, a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) and chairperson of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), said the cigarette ban would not stop people smoking. Instead, exorbitant black market prices “mean children have less food on their plates”, she said.
“The experts are against the ban,” says Mr Abramjee. “The Government has received a petition signed by more than half a million people calling for the ban to be lifted, as well as a submission from two million informal traders who accuse ministers of robbing them of their livelihoods and diverting the money to criminals.
“This national sentiment of disapproval far outweighs the 2,000 messages Minister Dlamini-Zuma cited as the reason for extending the ban. For 57 days of the world’s most draconian lockdown, desperate smokers have been forced to go ‘cold turkey’ without any support or rational explanation.
Abramjee says that smokers now put themselves at risk of contracting Covid-19 in search of their fix:
“To feed their addiction, they have been driven to travel more widely and make contact with more people -- the very opposite of the lockdown’s sole stated objective. The ban is against their interests and the interests of the nation. The sole beneficiaries are the criminals in the illicit trade who should be starved of the lucrative lifeblood supplied by the lockdown."
The association has called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to lift the tobacco ban at Level 3:
“TJSA urges the Presidency to announce that the ban will be lifted in the move to Level 3. The roadmap for easing lockdown suggests that the liquor ban will also be lifted in Level 3, which will help reduce illegal trade in alcohol and generate vital taxes. But bottle shops and other retail outlets should put in very organised and orderly systems because citizens, fearing that sales may only be temporary, will rush in huge numbers to the places of sale.”
Briefly.co.za reported that Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had called for the ban to only be lifted once SA migrates to Level 1 lockdown.
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