The sale of cigarettes accounts for a large percentage of many informal traders’ income.
THE SOUTH African Informal Traders Alliance (SAITA), which represents tens of thousands of informal traders, hawkers, spaza shop owners and home-based operators across all nine provinces in the country, has “cautiously noted” government’s decision to allow the sale of cigarettes.
“This will provide income which is desperately needed by informal traders. In many cases, the sale of cigarettes accounts for a large percentage of their income, so it is a welcome and necessary move which will have a profound impact on their ability to sustain themselves and their families during this unbelievably difficult health and economic crisis,” SAITA national president Rosheda Muller said in a statement on Sunday.
The coronavirus national lockdown has had a terrible impact on informal traders, many of whom had had their small businesses destroyed over the last month of lockdown.
“Our constituents, disadvantaged as they may be, trudge precariously along the path of survival, barely sustaining themselves yet retaining their dignity,” Muller said.
The more the country and its leaders could support these small traders by allowing their businesses to continue to trade, the less these struggling traders would need to depend on government handouts, she said.
“The ban on cigarette sales was a controversial move that had not seen a lot of support, for very good reasons. Firstly, there was a significant unintended consequence of this, which was to move smokers from legal to illegal cigarette consumption. This put money in the pockets of criminals instead of legal, hard working traders.
“It was well known that illicit cigarette makers did not pay taxes, so besides the terrible loss of income faced by SAITA’s traders, government had been losing out on taxes that should go towards rebuilding the nation,” Muller said.
“We recognise the health risks associated with the sale of tobacco products, but we must remember that it is not a banned industry and that we must allow adults to make their own choices. As traders, we are simply providing access to a legal product, the sale of which allows us to feed our families, educate our children, and sustain jobs.
“We hope the government bears this in mind as it looks at introducing a new law to control tobacco use in South Africa. When this bill was published for comment last year, we made it clear to government that banning the display of tobacco, as the bill proposed, would be unworkable for the informal trade, and would simply serve the illicit trade.”
The ban on tobacco during lockdown was perhaps the clearest indication of what would happen if government persisted in driving unnecessary and extreme regulations, Muller said. It was necessary to remain level-headed and mindful of the risks and unintended consequences that over-regulation would create.
– African News Agency (ANA)