Calls to allow tobacco sales grow, as study finds ban has backfired

Calls to allow tobacco sales grow, as study finds ban has backfired

More than 90% of smokers in South Africa have bought cigarettes during lockdown, despite government prohibiting the sale of all tabacco products.

Cigarettes in ashtray

This is one of the findings of a study conducted by the University of Cape Town's Research Unit on the Economics of Excisable Products.

The study also found that smokers paid a substantially higher price for cigarettes and many had to purchase unfamiliar brands.

Some even had to turn to drug dealers, smugglers, or the black market.

According to the head of the research unit Professor Corne van Walbeek, the disadvantages of the ban greatly outweigh the advantages.

"The current sales ban is feeding an illicit market that will be increasingly difficult to eradicate, even when the lockdown and the Covid-19 crisis is over.

"The fact that prices are increasing so rapidly indicates that the cigarette market is in absolute chaos."

He adds: "Smokers are desperate and are willing to pay exorbitant prices to get their fix, even if it is of an unknown source.

"The government should lift the ban on cigarette sales as soon as possible."

The founder of Tax Justice South Africa Yusuf Abramjee says the report confirms its warnings about the devastating impact of the lockdown ban.

"Whatever its declared intentions, the cigarette ban is solely serving to enrich criminals in the illicit trade.

"It is impoverishing citizens driven to pay exorbitant prices, depriving the state of R35 million a day in lost excise duties and spreading the virus by encouraging smokers to travel more widely and engage with more people.”

"Enough is enough. The Government must admit its error and allow South Africa’s 11 million smokers to buy legally produced, tax-paying cigarettes in shops and stores while they purchase their groceries and other essentials.”

Prior to the start of the national lockdown in March, government had indicated that the original intention of the cigarette ban was to support public health.

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