‘The ban was doing little to reduce the movement of people, instead, it achieved quite the opposite’
JOHANNESBURG – Tax Justice South Africa (TJSA) on Sunday urged government to heed growing calls for a review of the “nonsensical” and “draconian” ban on cigarette sales that threatens to undermine the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown.
“The ill-thought prohibition of cigarettes is impoverishing the nation, enriching criminals, and destroying the public’s faith in the lockdown, which is crucial for its success,” TJSA founder Yusuf Abramjee said in a statement.
“It faces a groundswell of opposition, from the man in the street to business leaders, politicians, and even some police. They all realise that the state is losing money hand over fist in unpaid taxes while criminals in the illicit trade reap the rewards,” he said.
The ban was doing little to reduce the movement of people. Instead, it achieved quite the opposite, encouraging South Africa’s 11 million smokers to travel further to find cigarettes in the black market, where there was daily evidence of increased activity.
Business leaders, including Business Against Crime South Africa, industry bodies, politicians, respected commentators, and an anonymous top police officer had condemned the ban. It had been called “nonsensical” and “draconian”, and had led some critics to question the lockdown itself, Abramjee said.
“Crime Stoppers International has written to the SA president and ministers, calling for an end to the ban to prevent it further fueling illicit trade.”
Every day of lockdown was costing the National Treasury R35 million in lost cigarette excise revenues alone. If the ban remained in place for 35 days, that loss would total R1.225 billion. Before lockdown, the illegal cigarette trade was costing the state R8 billion a year.
“We have disturbing evidence that rogue cops are conniving with illegal traders, and it is feared that large caches of illicit cigarettes confiscated by police are finding their way back into the market,” said Abramjee, a vice president of Crime Stoppers International.
President Cyril Ramaphosa had rightly earned great respect for his handling of the coronavirus crisis. But this ban was backfiring badly. TJSA fully supported a lockdown designed to stop the spread of a virus that could devastate the country. But it was a painful process and everyone had to buy into it.
“If the irrational ban on cigarettes is not lifted, we fear that public confidence will be lost and our national sacrifice will be wasted,” he said.
– African News Agency