File photo: ANA/Courtney Africa
File photo: ANA/Courtney Africa

From which planet does our lockdown tobacco law come from? asks FMF

By African News Agency Time of article published May 24, 2020

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Johannesburg - Police Minister Bheki Cele has decided that smoking with receipts is healthier than smoking without them, the Free Market Foundation (FMF) said on Sunday.

"He did not say whether he had a receipt for whatever his advisors were smoking," FMF CEO Leon Louw said in a statement.

"Unwittingly, he produced proof of life elsewhere. On my planet small and informal traders do not issue cash register receipts, yet he requires all consumers to have them. On my planet smokers dispose of supermarket receipts in recycle bins. On my planet laws are made by law-makers, not ministers on the fly. On my planet no one told coronaviruses [Covid-19] to discriminate against cigarettes without receipts. On my planet no one thinks that receipts are vaccines.

"Cele whimsically decreed that people with receipts may smoke. No, that is not a joke or fake news, and, no, it was not another planet. It really happened. Here," he said.

Since most till slips did not list items, Louw advised smokers to "wave any old receipt at an obnoxious cop demanding a receipt by either definition: bribe or worthless paper".

If police wanted cigarettes listed, all smokers needed was one old receipt. It would suffice for limitless cigarettes. "If you have a few receipts, sell them in the new government sponsored illicit receipt market," he said.

Loony aspects of lockdown drove harmless people into the hands of criminals who, gleefully supported by the government, prosper while normal lives were ruined. The government was carpet bombing its own country. By the time the tobacco ban was lifted, it might have cost the economy R450 billion – enough to replace all shacks with houses, or give all unemployed people informal jobs, Louw said.

Fuelling the rage of 11 million victimised smokers, and millions more subjected to their rage, Cele briefed media thus: "It is not illegal to smoke cigarettes in your house," he said, "only … when you fail to show us when and where you got the cigarettes."

"Seriously, that is what he said. His decree was neither to combat illicit trade, which this move promoted, nor to combat infection. It supposedly establishes when cigarettes were bought. Since cigarettes do not have serial numbers, they can not be linked to even itemised receipts."

Policymaking ought to be a carefully considered process, based on scientific evidence, cost-benefit analysis, and public participation. For such measures to be constitutional, there had to be a rational connection between cigarette receipts and Covid-19 transmission. "On my planet, there is no such evidence," he said.

If Cele had secret evidence, he owed it to the world where, in virtually all countries, tobacco sales were lawful. He should tell Dr Anthony Fauci of the US and the World Health Organisation (WHO) why demanding receipts did not induce such life-threatening laughter that patients needed respirators. Maybe his advisors found out how to get viruses to bypass receipt-holders.

"More concerning than policymaking on the fly is that the economy is in tatters, yet the finance minister and the revenue service are silent about their tobacco revenues going up in smoke while puritan prohibitionists promote illicit trade," Louw said.

Instead of the SA Police Service (SAPS) being a service distributing advice, masks, sanitiser, and gloves, it was back to being a police "force" as under apartheid. Like its precursor, it now had to enforce ludicrous laws. Instead of protecting harmless people, it criminalised them.

"While citizens confront mortality, unemployment, bankruptcy, depression, and anxiety, it is beyond dystopian to harass them for proof of cigarette purchase. The ban and the 'till slip' law are devoid of science, precedent, or common sense. The virus will be with us for months during which rules should be based on facts, data, sanity, and compassion.

"The government says smoking is addictive. If true, humanity and decency call for treatment and support, not criminalisation and oppression.

"The government should heed the call to discontinue ill-conceived, if not unlawful, measures. Instead of the rule of law, we have the law of unintended consequences. South Africans are forgiving people who want responsible and responsive government, not suspension of all constitutionally protected rights and liberties," Louw said.

African News Agency (ANA)

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