Will the ban on tobacco be extended even further, into level three of the lockdown regulations?
Free Market Foundation CEO Leon Louw believes the ban may continue.
“Smokers should be prepared to pay R20 for a single cigarette or R200 a box for many months to come. The pandemic will be with us in some form until next year, so don’t expect tobacco sales to be unbanned before 2021,” he said in a statement on Friday.
The foundation, which is a non-profit, public benefit organisation, said there were “indications” the ban on the sale of tobacco products could be extended beyond level four of the national lockdown and, possibly, even into level one.
If this happened, smokers would continue to pay extortionate prices on the black market.
Political party leaders who were part of a virtual meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday told TimesLIVE he was under “great pressure” from business and organised labour to open up the economy.
However, co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was “adamant about [the] cigarette ban, explaining the relationship between smoking and Covid-19” when she spoke during the briefing on what level three would entail.
The minister also said shebeens, taverns, gyms and other areas where people congregated in large numbers would remain closed.
Louw said: “As usual with all rushed and ill-conceived regulations, the law of unintended consequences is at play. As at the end of April, Treasury has lost in excess R300m in excise duty from tobacco products, and the illicit trade has been handed the market on a plate and is charging extortionate prices. People have not stopped smoking. Government has turned 11-million smokers into criminals overnight”.
“Where is the evidence that tobacco products increase the spread of Covid-19, or why tobacco products are singled out when other goods are shared, such as food and drinks, or communal toilets? Why aren’t they banning sugar since studies of Chinese Covid-19 patients shows the death rate was three times higher in patients with diabetes?” asked Louw.
Dlamini-Zuma’s spokesperson declined to comment on the minister’s recommendations around tobacco and alcohol to the coronavirus national command council.