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Press Release

Lifting of cigarette ban welcomed in fight against illicit trade and Covid-19

Thursday 2 April 2020 – TAX Justice South Africa (TJSA) today welcomes the lifting of the lockdown ban on cigarettes sales in the Western Cape as a vital step in the battle against COVID-19 and illicit trade.

Calling on other provinces to follow suit, TJSA founder Yusuf Abramjee says: “Banning tobacco sales encourages South Africa’s 11 million smokers to seek their cigarettes from illegal traders, fuelling the illicit economy and spreading the virus by increasing people’s movements.

“Before the lockdown, one in every three cigarettes sold in SA was illicit, costing us R8 billion in lost taxes every year. The lockdown ban has seen previously law-abiding citizens driven to the illicit market, where no tax is paid, and these tax-paying customers may be lost forever at a time when SARS needs every cent of tax it can raise.

“If the sole objective of the lockdown is to stop people moving around, that is defeated if people can’t buy cigarettes at stores they visit anyway for their essential goods.”

The Western Cape Government announced on Wednesday that cigarettes may now be sold in the province, but only to customers also buying essential goods.

“This will help to halt the spread of the virus and stifle illicit trade,” says Mr Abramjee. “Smokers will not be visiting the shops more than other customers, as they must buy groceries along with their cigarette purchases.

“There is an argument for banning alcohol because consumption by citizens makes it harder for SAPS to do their job. Cigarette smoking doesn’t fuel public disorder and banning cigarettes only makes it harder for SAPS to do their job.

“We have seen that valuable SAPS time has been taken up pursuing illegal traders and seizing their products. These criminals are not just seeking to profit off the virus, they are actively encouraging its spread.”