A number of prominent South African companies have published an open letter to Cyril Ramaphosa, asking him to lift the country’s ban on the sale of tobacco products.
The letter – which was published by the Sunday Times – includes prominent signatories such as the British American Tobacco, SAAI, Fresh Stop, South African Tobacco and retailer Spar.
The group note that 5 July marks 100 days since the sale of tobacco products was first banned in South Africa, arguing that this has caused significant damage to South Africa’s economy and citizens.
“Whole communities have been torn apart as the ban has extinguished livelihoods that sustain thousands of families across the nation,” it said. “With the stroke of a pen, 11 million previously law-abiding smokers and vapers have been turned into criminals.”
The group said that the ban has also cost the country R3.5 billion in excise taxes to date – money which could have paid for:
- Two new hospitals and 5,000 ventilators;
- 54 new schools;
- The salaries of 25,000 nurses, 5,000 doctors, and 20,000 primary school teachers;
- 8,045 new affordable homes;
- 23 million food parcels for the poor.
“Money that is meant to help build a better nation for all has instead filled the pockets of these billionaire criminals in the illegal trade. Their corrupt enterprises have thrived beyond their wildest dreams while honest, hard-working citizens have had their hopes crushed.
“It has been 100 days, but South Africa – the only major nation in the world with a tobacco and vaping ban – cannot afford for this to last a single day longer.”
Responding to questions in a virtual Q&A on Wednesday evening (1 July), Ramaphosa said that the ban is not permanent and will be lifted in due course.
“We will not be under lockdown forever. The ban on cigarettes will be lifted. It is still in place now in terms of our regulations and I think that we should accept it as such.
“With time, as we go to another level and another level, the ban on cigarettes will also be lifted. Cigarettes are not banned forever in our country, the ban will be lifted.”
In a statement in June, Ramaphosa said that the decision to promulgate the Disaster Management Regulations, including regulation 27 (of the Regulations), which prohibits the sale of tobacco products, e-cigarettes and related products was taken after careful consideration.
He said this included submissions received as well as relevant medical literature focusing on the effects of smoking on public and individual health, especially in the face of a respiratory illness such as Covid-19.
“After my initial announcement on 23 April 2020, following representations that were made by various organisations and individuals and further consideration of relevant medical studies and advice, a different position was ultimately adopted by the National Coronavirus Command Council and thereafter by Cabinet before the regulations were promulgated,” he said.
“At this stage, it is difficult to determine when the ban on the sale of tobacco and related products will be lifted.
“This will depend on such factors as the progression of the disease in South Africa, the readiness of our health systems and evolving knowledge on the nature and impact of the virus itself.”