‘Illegal cigarettes the real health risk,’ say farmer organisations

It remains unsure when smokers will be able to buy legal cigarettes again. Photo: Supplied

Farmer organisations have appealed to government to lift the ban on the sale of tobacco products and act against the illicit cigarette trade. They point out that the illegal trade in cigarettes is endangering the health of smokers in the country even as the state loses billions in taxes due to the continued ban on legal trade. 

Farmers organisations like Agri SA and the Transvaalse Landbou Unie (TLU SA) have joined the tobacco industry and even anti-smoking pressure groups in condemning the continued banThis after pres. Cyril Ramaphosa announced that it would remain in place “for health reasons” as other covid-19 lockdown measures are gradually relaxed.

The TLU SA says they formally requested that Ramaphosa set up a judicial commission to investigate the illegal trade of cigarettes and expose all parties involved. 

Agri SA Executive director Omri Van Zyl says in a media statement that it is clear the ban serves no purpose as consumers have not stopped using tobacco products. 

Omri van Zyl, executive director of Agri SA.

“Smokers are now buying illicit cigarettes at an unprecedented scale. Much of the illicit traded cigarettes do not adhere to industry and Government safety standards and has been found in instances to contain foreign particles and chemicals that pose even more health dangers for smokers,” says Van Zyl. 

Executive director of the Tobacco Alcohol and Gambling Advisory Advocacy and Action Group (TAG), Peter Ucko, says the ban on tobacco products has allowed the illegal trade of cigarettes to take up space. Not only does this ban have health implications it also endangers the public, believes Ucko  

One of the major problems are the illicit traders who are illegally acquiring cigarettes, smuggling them across the border and then selling them illegally,” says Ucko. 

If a person goes and buys those cigarettes, then they are in essence supporting a crime. Citizens in general should not commit any crime. The fact that illegal trade is growing because of prohibition is bad news.” 

The Transvaalse Landbou Unie (TLU SA) also criticised the continued tobacco ban.   

“The economy already took a massive knock,” says Louis Meintjes, the president of TLU SA. 

President of the Transvaal Agriculture Union, Louis Meintjes.

“It is in the interest of South Africa and the persons involved to launch an urgent, decisive investigation to expose any illegal dealings to legal scrutiny,” says Mr Louis Meintjes, the president of TLU SA. “The ban on the sale of tobacco products serves no purpose since smokers turned to the black market to buy cigarettes. The only people to benefit from the situation, are those involved in the illegal trade of cigarettes.  This is significantly damaging to the state fiscus.”

Government in a virtual parliamentary sitting with the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) last night once more defended the constitutionality of the lockdown measure citing health reasons as the basis of merit on the ban of tobacco products.  

UPDATED on 27 May 2020 to include the TLU SA call for a judicial enquiry.

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