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Tobacco ban allegedly worsening Covid-19 spread as smokers now share illicit cigarettes due to unaffordability

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The Soweto Business Access were concerned that the prohibition was in fact helping the virus spread.

Johannesburg – The Soweto Business Access (SBA) has asked the government to lift the ban on cigarettes, saying they were increasingly concerned that the prohibition was in fact helping the virus spread.

SBA said it had submitted its views to government and that the submission was based on the lived experiences of Soweto people and how the continued ban was impacting on them.

The organisation said cigarettes have become much harder to get hold of during the lockdown and much more expensive while the illicit market was making a fortune with government losing out on billions of rands in revenue.

“It’s a seller’s market and illegal traders can demand massively inflated prices. The cost of a single or loose draw has gone up from from 50 cents to R5/7 since the lockdown started.

“As a result of the scarcity and the price, more and more people are ending up sharing cigarettes. They are sharing saliva when they share cigarettes – not because they want to but because the government has made cigarettes almost unaffordable.

“Smokers are also violating the rules on social distancing when they stand next to each other to share askyf.

“In so doing they could be spreading the virus faster than we think. So the culture of sharing – forced by the regulations – now threatens to increase the spread of corona virus rather than stopping the spread,” SBA said.

In his speech on Sunday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa said South Africa would be easing into Lockdown level 3 as of June 1. While alcohol will be sold, cigarette sales continue to the prohibited.

SBA, however, warned that the ban was going to increase the damage the virus causes to township and villages and therefore, bigger budgets will be required for hospital beds and drug rehab centres, something which could have been avoided.

“The residential premises of those that have managed to acquire cigarettes from their underworld contacts have become magnets for social gatherings for teenagers. It is within these yards that young smokers are now sharing cigarettes in groups, in the same fashion as people have been known to gather to smoke illegal drugs like meth, wonga, nyaope, etc.

“Is our country ready for the spike in suchskyf sessions in high schools and varsities? Are we ready for a spike in more addicts of nyaope and meth, alongside the massive spike in illegal cigarette manufacturers and dealers?

“We say this because we are also seeing evidence that drug dealers are using the lockdown to get more youngsters addicted to their products. Because most cigarettes are now being sold as loose draws or singles, consumers have way of no knowing their origin, their contents or whether in fact they contain narcotics. This is a very real concern for us, and one which the government seriously needs to consider.”

The Star