FITA Press Release 14 December 2020

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Press release – FITA – for immediate release

We note and welcome the judgment of the full bench of the Western Cape High Court which held that Regulation 45 of the lockdown level 3 regulations cannot and does not withstand constitutional scrutiny. The court further found Regulation 45 to be neither necessary nor that it furthered the objectives set out in section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act. This of course was one of the arguments advanced by FITA in its challenging of the ban on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco related products, which the full bench of the North Gauteng High Court erred in finding same to be necessary.

We will over the next few days study this judgment with our legal representatives in relation to any other implications it may have on our organisation and its members.

In as much as the ruling of the Western Cape High Court is welcomed by all in the industry, it is rather unfortunate that industry role-players were left with no alternative but to approach the courts as government, in a constitutional democracy, blatantly refused to engage with the industry as a whole at all prior to and throughout the duration of the ban on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco related products, which ban lasted some 5 months in total. This while government had openly engaged with most other industries who were affected by the regulations imposed during lockdown period. The net effect of this is that inter alia the ban has resulted in the exponential growth of the illicit trade in cigarettes, with many criminal syndicates who were involved in other criminal activities getting attracted to this practice as a result of the apparent relative ease of the smuggling of cigarettes through our porous borders, the porousness of which was admitted by Minister of Home Affairs Dr Aaron Motsoaledi to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs on the 17th of November 2020, weighed up against the apparent lack of bite of our law enforcement agencies, and also factoring the large sums of money these syndicates stood to make for their efforts.

It is also worth mentioning that following a recent stop at three border sites by a contingent of Members of Parliament comprising representatives from both the Joint Standing Committee on Defence and the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans inter alia the following observation was made:

“There are similar challenges on the Zimbabwe border where lethal threats are on the rise. Organised crime syndicates seem to be well-equipped with weapons and intelligence.”

The above is seriously concerning and a clear indication of how lucrative this market has become for these criminal syndicates, who are now even prepared to arm themselves and take on our law enforcement agencies. We had on many occasions warned government that prolonging the irrational cigarette ban would only serve to encourage these criminal elements who have now clearly grown their resources and networks.

This of course has a significant impact on the legitimate players in the tobacco industry and those they employ along the value chain as it is virtually impossible to compete with these syndicates who are flooding the South African market with their contraband.

We have, as an organisation, had some engagements with certain law enforcement agencies however, at this juncture it is clear that there currently exists no plan by government on how to tackle this rampant issue, and of course this raises serious concerns for our members as industry role-players and employers who contribute to the fiscus.

We therefore plead with government to assist legitimate players in the tobacco industry in rooting out these criminal elements, and to deal with issues such as the rampant smuggling of cigarettes across our borders by criminals who are not only robbing the tobacco industry and the people it employs along its value chain, but also the fiscus and the people of this country.

Issued by Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association Chairperson: Sinenhlanhla Mnguni 14 December 2020

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

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