Skip to main content
Press Release

‘Draconian’ cigarette ban threatens to undermine lockdown

Sunday 19 April 2020 – TAX Justice South Africa (TJSA) today urges Government to heed growing calls for a review of the “nonsensical” and “draconian” ban on cigarettes that threatens to undermine the lockdown.

TJSA founder Yusuf Abramjee says: “The ill-thought prohibition of cigarettes is impoverishing the nation, enriching criminals and destroying the public’s faith in the lockdown, which is crucial for its success.

“It faces a groundswell of opposition, from the man in the street to business leaders, politicians and even some police.

“They all realise that the state is losing money hand over fist in unpaid taxes while criminals in the illicit trade reap the rewards.

“The ban is doing little to reduce the movement of people. Instead, it achieves quite the opposite: encouraging South Africa’s 11 million smokers to travel further to find cigarettes in the black market, where there is daily evidence of increased activity.

“Business leaders, including Business Against Crime South Africa, industry bodies, politicians, respected commentators and an anonymous top cop have condemned the ban. It has been called ‘nonsensical’ and ‘draconian’ and has led some critics to question the lockdown itself.

“Crime Stoppers International has written to the SA president and ministers, calling for an end to the ban to prevent it further fuelling illicit trade.”

Every day of lockdown is costing the Treasury R35 million in lost cigarette excise revenues alone. If the ban remains in place for 35 days that loss will total R1.225 billion. Before lockdown the illegal cigarette trade was costing the state R8 billion a year.

“We have disturbing evidence that rogue cops are conniving with illegal traders, and it is feared that large caches of illicit cigarettes confiscated by police are finding their way back into the market,” says Mr Abramjee, a vice-president of Crime Stoppers International.

“President Ramaphosa has rightly earned great respect for his handling of the coronavirus crisis. But this ban is backfiring badly.

“TJSA fully supports a lockdown designed to stop the spread of a virus that could devastate our country. But it’s a painful process and everyone has to buy into it.

“If the irrational ban on cigarettes is not lifted, we fear that public confidence will be lost and our national sacrifice will be wasted.”