South Africa’s national lockdown includes a blanket ban on the sale of cigarettes, which economists show has been a massive failure.
According to a report by the Sunday Times, the ban has been a “spectacular failure”, with more than 90% of 12,000 smokers who responded to an online questionnaire stating they had purchased cigarettes despite the lockdown ban.
A study conducted by the University of Cape Town found that the ban has resulted in an average daily increase in the price of cigarettes of 4.4%, as well as the creation of a large black market.
The ban has made a cigarette price war after the lockdown inevitable, the report added, and will allow illegal cigarette traders to be more competitive.
According to the report, the study also found that South Africans were angry about the logic behind the cigarette ban.
“Respondents do not understand the economics of health rationale for the sales ban,” the researchers said. “The continuation of the ban is illogical,” one smoker responded.
“Everyone is still smoking, just doing it illegally and at great cost while the government loses tax income and criminals make a fortune.”
WhatsApp groups and online petitions
Many South Africans continue to buy cigarettes over platforms such as WhatsApp.
This holds unique risks for the administrators of WhatsApp groups where this takes place, as they could be held liable for illegal cigarette and alcohol sales.
Legal experts have warned people that, independent of their feeling towards the ban, it is currently law and people who break this law face harsh penalties.
If you are putting adverts for cigarettes or alcohol on your Facebook feed or WhatsApp group, you are contravening the lockdown regulations.
While the government has banned cigarettes in an attempt to reduce exposure to COVID-19, the results of research linking smoking to a higher likelihood of hospitalisation due to COVID-19 are still uncertain.
Some studies found that smokers may be at lower risk than non-smokers, while others suggest that a history of smoking can have a negative effect on COVID-19 patients.
Many South Africans have argued for the ban on cigarette sales to be lifted, with an online petition calling for the end of the ban reaching over 525,000 signatures at the time of writing.
The government has remained unyielding in its position, however, stating that the ban will remain in force.