DURBAN - Across the nation, the nicotine craving is biting hard as smokers and criminals are desperately doing what they can to feed a habit that is not going away.
Now with the lockdown ban on tobacco products, more South Africans are fixing their craving with illegally obtained cigarettes.
“Citizens are already moving around in search of cigarettes which are being sold unlawfully all over the country,” said Sinenhlanhla Mnguni, the chairperson of the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita).
He said that since the ban, there had been an increase in break-ins and thefts from shops and storage facilities which stock so-called “non-essential” goods such as cigarettes.
It would take a while to see how much the lockdown would affect the use of illegal cigarettes, but already, those selling them are using new methods to move their product.
“We are seeing how the black market is flooding the market again,” says Tax Justice South Africa head, Yusuf Abramjee. “People are trading illegal cigarettes on Facebook. They are
selling them in parking lots. “It is defeating the purpose of a lockdown.”
“Our argument,” said Mnguni, “is that citizens are already permitted to travel to retail stores to purchase certain essential goods. We are, therefore, of the view that they should be permitted to purchase cigarettes and other ‘non-essential’ goods at these retail stores.”
During the lockdown, essential services retailers and petrol station stores have been banned from selling alcohol or cigarettes.
Fita, which represents 80% of legitimate and licensed cigarette manufacturers in Southern Africa, says while it supported the decisive measures taken by the government, they warned that the ban on cigarette sales would also have a negative impact on the country’s economy.
“Sars collected just under R13billion in excise from the sale of cigarettes for the financial year 2018/19,” said Mnguni.
“That figure is sure to have gone up in 2019/20 with the bolstering of the enforcement units at Sars, which has increased compliance within the industry. This, together with the levying of excise on cigarette alternative products such as (vapes), was sure to have
this figure increase substantially
during the current financial year.”
Mnguni believes the government is losing about R1.5bn a month on excise alone while the ban is in place.
“When you factor in VAT, corporate income tax and other tax types, the figure becomes even larger.”
He said Fita had contacted the Department of Trade and Industry, to engage on the issue but had not heard back from them.
“We, however, understand that the issue is receiving attention from government.”
Mnguni said he hoped the government would reverse the ban.