‘We are going to court,’ says Tobacco Association over cigarette ban during lockdown

Johannesburg – South Africans will be without alcohol and cigarettes for as long as the lockdown continues.

President Cyril Ramaphosa rejected calls for the lifting of the alcohol ban. He has instead directed liquor sellers to seek economic relief through programmes offered by the government.

This after the Gauteng Liquor Forum demanded that the total ban on alcohol sales be lifted. The forum had previously threatened court action if the ban was not lifted.

It said the ban was unreasonable and unconstitutional. South Africa’s largest brewery, SAB, said while it supported the government’s stance on the ban, it was hoping the government would consider loosening regulations.

“As beer is a product of moderation, we are in full agreement that the responsible consumption of beer should be allowed under strict conditions and we are sensitive to the requirements of the government’s strategy to effectively contain the Covid-19 pandemic,” said spokesperson Refilwe Masemola.

Meanwhile, the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita), which represents 80% of legitimate and licensed cigarette manufacturers in southern Africa, said it was prepared to go to court should the government persist with the ban on the sale of cigarettes

“We thought that if a positive outcome was achieved with the alcohol ban then the cigarette industry would receive the same treatment. We are going to court,” said chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni.

Fita said it was puzzled by the government’s decision since it would have a devastating impact on South Africa’s economy.

“Government is losing, according to estimates, in the region R1.5 billion a month on excise alone with the ban. When you factor in VAT, corporate income tax and other tax types the figure becomes even greater,” he said.

”This at a time when we are already dealing with huge deficits as far as our tax collections are concerned, with the recent announcement that the SA Revenue Service collected R 66.2billion less than estimated for the last financial year.”

According to the World Health Organization, smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to the virus as they touch their lips while smoking, which increases the possibility of hand-to-mouth transmission.

Mnguni said the ban had not stopped smokers from continuing to buy cigarettes.

“People are sourcing them from underground markets, to the detriment of, inter alia, the fiscus. And this is illegal. “We just want government to authorise, at a minimum, the distribution and sale of cigarettes at retail stores, spaza shops and filling stations.

“This would give the economy a much-needed boost and avoid a situation where our citizens, out of desperation, contravene the regulations.

“The current restrictions cannot be endured for much longer without severe consequences, including for farm workers, factory workers, informal traders, and the many other ordinary South Africans who rely on the tobacco industry for a living.

“This will in all likelihood lead to job losses and/or loss of income for many along the tobacco industry value chain.”

SAB said more than 200000 jobs had been affected.

“Our expansive value chain incorporates a total of almost 4000 suppliers of which 1345 are mostly SMMEs (small, medium and micro enterprises) supporting in excess of 140000 jobs,” said Masemola.

“In addition, our business sources agricultural inputs from more than 1300 farmers of which 750 are emerging farmers.

“Our products are purchased by 34000 wholesale and retail companies, of which the vast majority are SMMEs. We estimate that these wholesalers and retailers support at least 250 000 jobs on their own.”

Saturday Star