File picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)
File picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)

Tobacco ban possibly dangerous for smokers buying illicit cigarettes, says ex-Sars lawyer

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Jun 23, 2020

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A former SA Revenue Service (Sars) lawyer says the continued ban on the sale of tobacco products has been costly to country's fiscus, but also possibly dangerous for smokers who have now turned to illicit cigarettes.

Telita Snyckers, author of the book Dirty Tobacco, said the cost of the continued ban of tobacco products during the national lockdown is estimated at R1.6 billion. 

When this figure is put into perspective, the money lost could have financed 66 000 police officers' salaries. It could have also funded over 200 000 in social grant payments.

Synckers said it was well known that reputable tobacco companies, such as British American Tobacco, had allegedly been behind the smuggling of their own products to avoid paying taxes. 

She said that in the past it was known that most of the smuggled cigarettes were being brought in from Zimbabwe, but now during the lockdown it seemed the local manufacturing of illicit cigarettes has been entrenched.

"Historically we know that the majority of illegal cigarettes in South Africa were smuggled from Zimbabwe. But we have seen in recent years is that it has slowly been overtaken by local producers. 

"What seems to be the case is that 25% of the current illicit market during the lockdown is being supplied by BAT (British American Tobacco)," she said during an interview on Jacaranda FM on Tuesday morning.

"On average, it is probably R1.6 billion a month that we have lost. Over the (period) of three months, those losses would have been enough to pay for 66 000 police officers salaries," Snyckers said.

She said there seems to be an increase in illicit, unregulated cigarettes which could cause harm to people who consume the products.

On the court case brought by the Free Tabacco Trade Association (Fita), Snyckers said she was surprised the North Gauteng High Court had taken so long to issue its ruling on the matter because Fita had provided compelling arguments. The court heard arguments on the matter two weeks ago.

"When you look at the court papers, especially the ones Fita filed, they make a compelling argument that the minister overstepped the limitations of the disaster management act. 

"I am surprised that the court has taken so long to come back with a ruling on the matter. Anyone who has read the papers would agree that they have made a very compelling argument on the matter," she said.

 "When we look at Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, she has for the longest time been actively trying to reduce smoking rates in South Africa. I think that she is wrong to do so. 

"The issue is the regulations that she has didn't empower her to include cigarettes in the lockdown regulations. When you look at the way that the government has dealt with this case, it isn't about tobacco any more it is about government overreach, and it is about government acting in good faith and about (it) being able to back up its policy decisions with sound science," she said. 

Political Bureau

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