The ban on the sale of tobacco products holds no merit, says Agri SA executive director Omri van Zyl. While the ban is in place, the illicit tobacco trade is allowed to mushroom, with a devastating impact on the economy.
Van Zyl took the reigns as the keynote speaker at a webinar hosted by PSG and shared his insights on the effects of covid-19 on the agriculture industry.
He spoke out against the ban on the sale of tobacco products that government has enacted as part of anti-coronavirus lockdown regulations. The controversial ban is currently facing two separate legal challenges.
“There is no logical reason why the tobacco industry should not be open. We are the only country in the world (us and Botswana) that actually stopped the sale of tobacco. SARS has already lost two billion rand in revenue that they could have gotten in,” he said.
“Illicit trading is taking over market spaces that tax paying tobacco companies have taken up in the past. Hopefully the court case will go in favour of that and we can go on with our business as usual.”
Van Zyl said that, despite its declaration as an essential service, the agri-sector has experienced numerous challenges in functioning optimally amid the global pandemic.
“Agriculture is the life vein of the South African economy. It is extremely important that we remain competitive, and that we remain committed to agriculture. If we look at agriculture’s contribution to the GDP across the entire value chain, it’s almost 24% and that is a meaningful contribution.”
Referring again to the tobacco ban, Van Zyl added that it made no sense to “nit-pick” which sectors should function and which should remain closed. All sectors in the agricultural value chain are important, he said.
“With covid-19 the reset button has been pushed on the South African economy. We are not even in a recession; we are in a depression. We’re not standing on a cliff, we are free-falling down the cliff. So we need to think differently about what the priorities are in investment in our economy.”
Legal fight against tobacco ban
Government is currently facing two legal challenges over the rationality of the lockdown ban on tobacco product sales.
The Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) and tobacco giant British American Tobacco South Africa (Batsa) have been relentless in their opposition to the continued ban.
Government has remained steadfast in their decision to ban the sale of tobacco products as part of the measures of the national lockdown, citing the health of South Africans as its number one priority.
FITA came face to face with government in court challenging the legality of the decision, calling the reasoning behind the ban and claims of covid-19-related health implications associated with smoking “bogus.” Judgement over the matter has been reserved.
Batsa will present their arguments in the Western Cape High Court on the 30th of June.
In a media statement spokesperson Craig Dodds today said that all parties in their legal application to set aside the ban on the sale of tobacco products, are eager to have the matter heard before court on the scheduled date.