Cigarette producers call for end to lockdown ban
This week the legal tobacco industry and the Government go head-to-head in the Cape Town High Court to determine the legality of the ban on cigarettes.
The decision will affect millions of smokers, and importantly, the close to 300 000 people who work in the legal tobacco value chain.
The value chain includes tobacco farmers, processors and manufacturers, who are united under the umbrella of the South Africa Tobacco Transformation Alliance (Satta).
The organisation is a co-applicant with British American Tobacco South Africa (Batsa), and a number of retail outlets in the court action.
Retailers have been hard-hit by the ban. They are challenging the Government’s decision to extend the ban on tobacco sales during Level 3 of the Covid-19 Risk-Adjusted Strategy.
In its founding affidavit, Batsa argues that it has “made every effort to constructively engage with (the) Government since the ban came into force, including making detailed submissions, along with other interested parties, to various Ministers, as well as directly to the Presidency.
“To date, no formal response has been received from the Government, and Batsa has not been included in any of the Government’s consultation processes so far.”
In addition to the court action, Satta launched #LiftTheBanSA a national a campaign for people to show their objection to the ban. The campaign includes an online petition for people to sign.
Satta says they have had enough: “The ban is threatening the survival of the legal tobacco sector and the livelihoods it directly supports.
“Our research shows more than 296 000 people’s livelihoods are at stake. This includes farmers, processors, manufacturers and retailers. Many are small business owners.
“Many of our members are already in serious financial difficulty because of the ban on sales. Our entire value chain has been at a standstill for more than 120 days.
“Farmers are unable to plan. We are due to start planting, but because we have no idea when legal cigarette sales will be resumed, we do not know how much to plant. In the same way, processors and manufacturers are unable to plan because they do not know how big the harvest will be.”
Satta is not only worried about the impact of the ban on its own members’ activities, but it is also concerned how the ban is helping black marketeers make millions of rands illegally, and how they are entrenching themselves in the market.
“The recent report by UCT’s Research Unit on the Economics of Excisable Products (RUEEP) on the impact of the ban on cigarette sales shows one thing: The ban has done nothing but stimulate illegal activity, and should be lifted immediately,” Satta says.
“The report points out that the longer the ban continues, the harder it will be to get rid of criminal cigarette networks.
“Which makes us ask, again and again is: Why is the government doing this? Why is it punishing legitimate farmers, for example, and favouring criminals? Why would it be happy to accept that it is losing out on R35-million on tax revenue every single day?”