Home Opinion & Features Cigarette ban baffles me

Cigarette ban baffles me

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It remains to be seen whether the ban will end up in ashes, but for now it is very real

I READ what was supposedly a funny post on social media: “never seen a country unite in doing illegal activities like organising alcohol and cigarettes the way SA has”.

Only, it is not so funny, as it is true.

I saw people on Facebook openly asking where they can buy cigarettes during lockdown. Someone answered and called on the person with nicotine withdrawal to send his details via private message.

Another shocker was seeing what cigarettes were being sold for on the black market – R1 300 a carton for ordinary brands which would usually sell for around R450. This post too was on social media.

The illegal alcohol trade is not far behind, as a friend told me there were home-made bottles of wine for sale – the going rate is R150 a bottle.

While I have time and again confessed that I do miss my nightly glass of merlot, I am not against the alcohol ban. Many simply cannot handle their alcohol consumption and unfortunately others, who can, have to suffer.

My niece, a doctor at Mitchells Plain District Hospital, is doing duty at the orthopaedics section which she said has never been so quiet.

All good and well, but the cigarette ban baffles me, especially the government’s steadfast stance in the wake of inevitable litigation in this regard. But then, why should the courts be a deterrent, as the (cash-strapped) taxpayer will foot the government’s legal bill.

I was even more shocked when I read that Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu has put his foot down on any possible discussions with the cigarette industry. Surely there should be some kind of mediation?

But I guess British American Tobacco South Africa will go ahead with its threat to take the government to court. It said Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s announcement last week in banning the sale of cigarettes was inconsistent with the president’s earlier announcement that cigarettes would be sold during lockdown Level 4.

She cited the 2 000 submissions against the sale of cigarettes as a reason for the ban.

As British American Tobacco said over the weekend, that is bizarre and highly irregular, as she did not give the tobacco industry the opportunity to comment on the issue.

A subsequent petition supporting the sale of cigarettes has received 400 000 signatures. I am not sure where it then leaves the 2 000 who were objecting.

Another fact is that British American Tobacco SA last year collected and paid R13 billion to the government in the form of excise and taxes. It says the Treasury is losing R36 million of vitally required revenue in excise taxes every day the ban on cigarette sales continues. This explains why Finance Minister Tito Mboweni publicly stated that he supported the president’s announcement to legalise the sale of cigarettes.

It remains to be seen whether the ban will end up in ashes, but for now it is very real.

Another bizarre fact, which I am unable to grasp, is that while most shops can trade and sell winter clothes and other essentials, the sale of underwear for adults is banned.

But luckily we have some very clever legal minds in our country, who ask pertinent questions, based on the law. Two of the country’s top advocates, Nazeer Cassim SC and Erin Richards have expressed their concerns regarding the structure and legality of the National Command Centre. 

They have demanded answers from the president in this regard, else they might turn to the court to get the answers. This might be vital to us, as the citizens, and one worth watching, as the command council rules our lives at this stage – perhaps for better, perhaps for worse.