Over 500 000 South Africans sign petition against tobacco ban
IT WAS a huge surprise for Bev Maclean that the petition she started, asking President Cyril Ramaphosa to overturn the ban on the sale of cigarettes during the lockdown, had received more than 540 000 signatures.
“I did not think I would get this many. I thought I might get 20 000,” said Maclean, who started the petition on wwww.change.org.
Maclean, who now lives in Joburg, said the number of signatures received showed how many South Africans felt about the ban.
As of yesterday, the petition had attracted 549 081 signatures, and Maclean said she hoped the number would reach a million.
It has been widely reported that the decision to ban the sale of cigarettes during the lockdown has raised the ire of many smokers across the country.
The announcement by Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma last month that the ban would remain in place during the extended lockdown period was seen as a reversal of the president’s statement earlier that it would be dropped.
Maclean said the number of signatures received could have been higher as many smokers did not have access to the internet.
Although she had received support from many citizens, Maclean said her family had been less than enthusiastic about the petition.“I am the only one at home who smokes,” she said.
The success of the petition had surprised her family, Maclean said.
While her family did not approve of her habit, she said that that had not deterred her from smoking as she felt she had the right to smoke.
Yusuf Abramjee, founder of Tax Justice SA, which has been campaigning to have the smoking ban lifted, said the number of petition signatories showed that many opposed the ban.
“All available evidence shows that the vast majority of South Africa’s 11 million smokers are still buying cigarettes.
“But they are paying sky-high prices and all the proceeds are filling the pockets of criminals. Some families are even going hungry because of the price they are being forced to pay to satisfy their addiction.
“The consumer is losing, law-abiding retailers are losing and the government is losing R35 million a day in excise duties,” he said.
Abramjee felt the ban was enriching criminals – who would be difficult to get rid of when the ban was over.
“Over half a million signatories to the petition are protesting against this and demanding to know why it is being allowed to happen,” he said.
On the other hand, Peter Ucko, chief executive of the Tobacco Alcohol and Gambling Advisory, Advocacy and Action Group, said although the ban might seem harsh, it had had a positive impact.
He said an online survey by UCT, which had more than 16 000 respondents, indicated that about 16% of them had managed to quit smoking during the lockdown (although some might relapse).
“The number of people who quit smoking was a positive development,” said Ucko.
He said he was saddened by the fact that about 4.9 million smokers still had access to cigarettes and were breaking the law by buying them.