Free Market Foundation (FMF) CEO Leon Louw believes that the cigarette ban in South Africa may last until 2021.
“Smokers should be prepared to pay R20 for a single cigarette or R200 a box for many months to come,” said Louw.
“The pandemic will be with us in some form until next year, so don’t expect tobacco sales to be unbanned before 2021.”
Louw told MyBroadband that cooperative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) that the sale of tobacco and alcohol should remain banned until South Africa reaches level 1 of lockdown.
Dlamini-Zuma’s argument contests a reported agreement that the ban on cigarette sales would be lifted under level 3.
According to Louw, the “rushed and ill-conceived” ban on cigarette sales has caused a variety of unintended consequences.
“As at the end of April, Treasury has lost in excess R300 million in excise duty from tobacco products, and the illicit trade has been handed the market on a plate and is charging extortionate prices,” said Louw.
Louw cited information from a UCT research unit which found that the vast majority of South African smokers have continued to purchase cigarettes under lockdown.
They have switched from purchasing cigarettes from legal vendors to the illegal market, and are sometimes travelling long distances to do this, the research states.
“People have not stopped smoking. Government has turned 11 million smokers into criminals overnight,” said Louw.
He argued that the government has yet to provide any evidence that smoking has any impact on COVID-19.
“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, drinks or communal toilets?” Louw asked.
“Why aren’t they banning sugar since studies of Chinese COVID-19 patients shows that the death rate was three times higher in patients with diabetes?”
Louw added that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has not released any evidence or data on the relationship between smoking and COVID-19, and has not taken a position on whether tobacco sales should be banned.
He said South Africa is one of only three countries in the world to have banned cigarettes during the COVID-19 pandemic – along with Botswana and India.
“Even if certain studies attempt to make a connection between smoking and COVID-19, why haven’t other countries followed their advice and banned tobacco?” asked Louw.
Goodwill is disappearing
Louw said that government has also ignored the mental health element of withdrawal.
“Nicotine withdrawal has been forced upon millions of smokers, with no regard for their mental health,” he argued.
“Government is accountable to the people – the day of reckoning will arrive. Public goodwill and support generated in the first three weeks of lockdown are disappearing fast.”
“They better have a very good explanation,” Louw added.