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Press Release

Tobacco bill is cheats’ charter that will hand cigarette market to criminals

Monday 10 July 2023 – THE new tobacco bill will hand complete control of South Africa’s cigarette market to the criminal tobacco barons who are already stealing more than R20 billion a year in vital tax revenue, Tax Justice SA (TJSA) warns today.


“If the kingpins of the illicit cigarette trade were told to draft a plan to expand their deeply destructive empires, the tobacco control bill is what it would look like,” says TJSA founder Yusuf Abramjee.


“The proposed draconian rules for law-abiding manufacturers and retailers will simply turbo-charge trade for organised crime networks that are already looting state revenue on an industrial scale by ignoring existing regulations.”


Parliament has called for public comment on the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill, which imposes swingeing restrictions on manufacturers, retailers and consumers. These measures include plain packaging, display bans and no-smoking zones outdoors, with jail terms ranging from six months for smoking in the wrong place outdoors, to 15 years for buying or selling cigarettes online.


“It’s as if the Government has learned nothing from the disastrous and unconstitutional tobacco sales ban during the Covid lockdown,” says Abramjee.


“During that prohibition, which the courts later ruled to be illegal, almost every smoker was able to buy cigarettes and the only winners were the illicit networks that were able to charge sky-high prices.

“As a result, today nearly three out of every four cigarettes sold in South Africa are illicit and the fiscus is losing over R20 billion a year. If the bill becomes law, almost every cigarette sold will be illicit and many billions rand more of desperately needed tax revenue will be lost.


“Criminal manufacturers will continue to flood the market with cheap and colourful tax-evading brands. Meanwhile, it will be impossible to police display bans and other restrictions in the informal sector, where illicit cigarettes are currently being sold in huge volumes at prices that are a fraction of the taxes that should legally be paid on them.


“The tobacco control bill will turn law-abiding citizens into criminals and reward the villains who’ve been allowed to operate with impunity for far too long. Not a single life will be saved, and only the luxurious lives of the illicit cigarette kingpins will be improved.


“Anyone concerned with the rule of law in South Africa should oppose this legislation, and MPs should reject it as an ill-thought, counter-productive charter for cheats.”