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Tobacco ban still burns, 100 days in

Pages 2 and 3 of the Sunday Times this weekend are devoted to an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa and the rest of the South African cabinet asking that the ban on tobacco sales be lifted.

The letter makes a compelling case for the lifting of the ban, which has never made any sense to the millions of us, smokers and otherwise, who want to support our president’s every effort to fight Covid-19.

The letter – which is signed by a number of corporate heavyweights, from British American Tobacco, the Southern African Agri Initiative to Fresh Stop and Spar – outlines a couple of main reasons (not including that smokers are dying to get their hands on a packet of fags … they have all been getting their fix somehow: illegal cigarettes, Mary Jane, crack cocaine … that sort of thing).

Reasons to lift the ban include:

  • It has extinguished livelihoods that sustain thousands of families. “The pain has echoed from the tobacco fields of Limpopo to the spaza shops of Soweto, Umlazi and the Cape Flats. Proud factory workers, truck drivers and store staff are being denied the ability to put bread on the table, shoes on the feet of their children, schoolbooks in their bags and a safe roof over their head.”

  • 11 million previously law-abiding smokers and vapers have been turned into criminals. (I am not sure that “law-abiding” is the best fit, but “criminal” doesn’t fit at all)

  • It has cost the country R3.5 billion in excise taxes

  • The “millionaire criminals” in the Illegal trade have reaped the rewards, “their corrupt enterprises have thrived beyond  their wildest dreams”.
    Call Off The Search has heard of traders selling one box of 20 cigarettes for R250. Obviously, no one pays duty or taxes on these products. Working on the basis that a box of illegal cigarettes normally costs R25 on the street, R250 includes an additional profit of R225!

  • Our national spirit of ubuntu has been shattered. Well, to be honest, Jacob Zuma and wives and friends already did that. South Africans have yet again learnt that crime pays in the beloved country.

The real killer punch of this message is delivered when the cost to South Africa of the lost R3.5 billion is outlined. It could have paid for:

  • Two new hospitals and 5,000 ventilators
  • 54 new schools
  • The salaries of 25,000 nurses, 5,000 doctors, and 20,000 primary school teachers
  • 8,045 new affordable homes
  • 23 million food parcels for the poor

What will SA be like post-Covid, be part of the survey:

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