Tobacco ban: Let’s call an end to this failed experiment

The tobacco ban is unsettling the nerves of many smokers in South Africa – and isn’t very healthy for the economy. According to this statement from Tax Justice SA, R35-million in tax revenue goes up in smoke while thousands of jobs continue to be jeopardised. While the government maintains the ban has been put in place to save lives, tobacco giant British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA) continues fighting to have the ban lifted, arguing that the prohibition of tobacco products is unconstitutional. Lawyers for Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma have told the Western Cape High Court that they are bound by the decision of the Gauteng division, which upheld the government’s tobacco ban just last month. – Jarryd Neves

Tax Justice SA media statement:

President Ramaphosa should do the right thing and immediately lift the tobacco ban after the High Court reserved judgment following the Government’s laboured defence of the sales prohibition, says Tax Justice SA.

Anyone who had to sit through two days of repetition, rambling and long-winded explanation by Minister Dlamini-Zuma’s lawyers will know how weak her case is,” TJSA founder Yusuf Abramjee said.

Sadly for the three judges, they have a duty to consider the huge volumes of paperwork with which the Minister has tried to overwhelm them.

But the President should not wait for their verdict, as patently the ban is so wrong and is doing so much harm. He should do the right thing and lift this failed prohibition immediately.

The court heard today that the Minister knows ‘full well’ that the ban is enriching criminals, but she is happy for this travesty to continue.

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If there was any justification for such unconstitutional behaviour, you’d think her lawyers would have provided it during their almost eight hours of evidence. But they could not and there was no proof of any significant benefit for health services.

Instead we heard how South Africa is the only country in the world outlawing tobacco sales despite compelling proof that the ban fuels illicit trade and encourages the sharing of single cigarettes, thereby increasing the risk of infection.

The 132-day-old ban is causing untold misery for millions, robbing the fiscus of R35 million daily and destroying thousands of jobs.

This week the President promised to crack down on officials who break the law to profit from the pandemic. Now Ministers are seeking to bend the law and delay justice to indulge their own agendas.

He should call an end to this failed experiment, lift the ban and try to restore some faith in the leaders who are meant to guide South Africans through this crisis.