Smokers may need to shake their bags to pay as much as R20 per single cigarette for another few months or up to R200 (or more) for a pack of 20 cigarettes.
It is rumored that the government still wants to uphold the ban on tobacco product sales during Level 3 of the Covid-19 restriction, despite earlier promises that it would be lifted.
Government spokesmen shrugged off those rumors on Friday.
News24 reported reliable sources say Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), told the National COVID-19 Pandemic Command that it is too much of a health risk to allow cigarette and alcohol sales on June 1 .
It comes despite an agreement that the government does intend to allow level 3 cigarette sales.
According to the reliable source, Dlamini-Zuma was supported by Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, currently Home Secretary who was previously Health Minister. Dlamini-Zuma cited academic studies to support her stance that the health risk is too great to allow tobacco and alcohol sales during the pandemic.
The issue has been widely debated, but a final decision has not yet been made, the source told News24.
Cogta spokesperson Mlungisi Mtshali said he had also not heard from rumors that cigarette and liquor sales would only be allowed at level 1 of the restriction. “I can’t comment on information from an anonymous source.”
Sidwell Medupe, spokesman for the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, declined to comment, saying it was better to wait for the official announcement. The command board meets again Tuesday.
Fita, the organization of independent tobacco producers, also confirmed the issue is still being discussed with the board of command and a final decision has not yet been made. Fita chairman Sinenhlanhla Mnguni says many command council members support the lifting of the tobacco trade ban. Fita has a court order against the government that obliges him to make the minutes public by Tuesday and provide reasons for the contentious decision to still ban tobacco sales at level 4, even though Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa previously indicated the ban would be lifted.
Leon Louw, CEO of the Free Market Foundation, warns that all this means is that smokers will still have to pay excessive prices for cigarettes for months on the illegal market.
British American Tobacco South Africa (Batsa), the largest single cigarette manufacturer in the country, did not respond to inquiries, but earlier warned the government was losing R36m a day on tax on the sale of legal cigarettes.
Louw says there is no proven health relationship between smoking and Covid-19. “Why don’t they also ban sugar, because studies of Chinese Covid-19 patients have shown that the death rate is three times higher in patients with diabetes?
“As is usually the case with scrambled and poorly conceived regulations, the law of unintended consequences is at work. By the end of April, the national treasury had already lost more than R300 million in excise duty on tobacco products, and the illegal traders found the market on a tray. They ask excessive prices and people have not stopped smoking. The government has converted 11 million smokers into criminals overnight. ”
The fight against illegal tobacco trafficking is lost, and the future looks sad for the legal tobacco industry, including informal traders and small shops that rely on tobacco sales to survive, Louw says.
Saita Secretary General Michael Mokgoja, the association representing informal cigarette dealers, said Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa has yet to respond to Saita’s “numerous letters”, in which Saita explains informal dealers receive up to 50% of their income from the legal sale of cigarettes, which now means they and their children are starving.
“Our sector is hit hardest by the containment, as there is no safety net that can stop our impending collapse,” says Mokgoja.
The market for cigarettes currently bought is run by syndicates, says Mokgoja. “It’s not our people who sell illegal cigarettes, they don’t even know how to get into the illegal industry.”
Mokgoja says the ban directly encourages crime because smokers will not stop smoking because the government says so. “All people who benefit are criminals!”
Meanwhile, smokers smoke unhealthy, unregulated cigarettes that fund gangs and informal dealers’ children “don’t have bread on the table. It can’t be that way. ” –