FITA Press Release 02 April 2020

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Press release – FITA – for immediate release

We commend the progressive steps taken yesterday, 1 April 2020, by the Western Cape Provincial Government under the leadership of Premier Alan Winde to lift the ban on the sale of cigarettes during the lockdown period of 27 March 2020 to 16 April 2020 implemented by the national government.

FITA as an organisation will donate a percentage of the sales of our member cigarettes that are purchased in the Western Cape region for the entire duration of the lockdown period to the Solidarity Fund.

We hope that other provincial governments and/or national government will soon follow suit. The sale of cigarettes has not been banned in other countries, who have mostly elected to ban the sale of alcohol if any ban of goods is in place. The South African lockdown restrictions have been deemed to be among the most extreme globally.

The damaging health effects of smoking are well established, but there is considerable short-term risk to the mental wellbeing of those who use tobacco as a coping mechanism. It is common knowledge that nicotine withdrawal causes bad temper, frustration, agitation, anxiety and mood swings.

It has also been brought to attention by a number of sources, and reported on by the media that the illicit trade in cigarettes and tobacco products has not abated as a result of the lockdown. There have already been a number of arrests by the police of people engaged in the sale of illicit goods looking to cash in on the unavailability of legitimate goods which consumers require. This is not surprising when considering the facts, and it now seems that, if anything, the regulations have led to the opportunist criminals involved in the illicit trade taking advantage in order to supply a market which can at this stage be described as desperate.

Further, the banning of the sale of cigarettes in the remaining 8 provinces will lead to people becoming desperate, traveling inter-provincially, and looking for methods to bypass the regulations in order to source the goods they require. We would therefore urge government as a whole to reconsider this aspect of the regulations in order to avoid inter alia a large-scale state of unlawfulness where citizens are contravening the lockdown regulations in order to acquire cigarettes.

Authorising at least the distribution and sale of cigarettes at retail stores, spaza shops and filling stations would give the economy a much-needed boost and avoid a situation where our citizens, out of desperation, contravene the regulations of the lockdown en masse.

In as far as the economy is concerned, SARS for instance collected just under R 13 billion in excise from the sale of cigarettes for the financial year 2018/19. That figure is sure to have gone up in 2019/20 with the bolstering of the enforcement units at SARS which have increased compliance within the industry. This, together with the levying of excise on cigarette alternative products such as the heat not burn cigarette, was sure to have this figure increase substantially during the current financial year. Government will therefore lose in excess of R 1 billion a month on excise alone if this ban stays in place. When you factor in VAT, corporate income tax and other tax types the figure becomes even larger.

A rethink of this ban by national government could also see a large number of jobs along the tobacco industry value chain being saved as the various players along the chain are able to derive some form of income during these trying times.

We accordingly urge government to reconsider the nationwide prohibition of the sale of cigarettes for the reasons set out herein in above.

We are also willing to engage government on the above and provide invaluable input as industry stakeholders in order for the state to make a more informed decision in relation to matters that affect its citizens vis-à-vis the tobacco industry.

Issued by Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association Chairperson: Sinenhlanhla Mnguni     02 April 2020

For queries kindly contact Monique Vogel t: 072 720 7919; e: Monique@fita.co.za

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