Illegal tobacco trading will benefit more from new bill – specialist retailer

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There are concerns that the new tobacco bill will aid the illicit tobacco trade. Photo: iStock/Gallo Images
There are concerns that the new tobacco bill will aid the illicit tobacco trade. Photo: iStock/Gallo Images


The department of health’s new tobacco bill will hand over the tobacco sector to illicit traders, according to specialist tobacco retailer Casa Tabacs. 

Casa Tabacs’ owner Diane Bravo said that the bill would perpetuate a trend established during the Covid-19 lockdown when illicit tobacco traders took over the market.

Bravo explained:

The tobacco ban during the pandemic should have been a lesson in how not to legislate, and to properly consider the unintended consequences of new laws. During the ban, the legal sector’s market share plummeted as they were unable to sell any products. The result was that the illicit tobacco market, which continued to sell illegal and counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco products, entrenched its dominance in the SA market.

The University of Cape Town’s Research Unit on the Economics of Excisable Products director, Professor Corné van Walbeek, said that the effects of the tobacco ban, which was lifted in August 2020, had been irreversible and had entrenched the illicit trade, which had now been sitting at 54%.

Bravo also said that the tobacco bill sounded like a death knell for small tobacco businesses and jobs.

The new bill aims to ban the display of all tobacco products, including harm-reduction products, such as e-cigarettes, vapes and heat-not-burn products, at the retail level, even in specialist tobacco stores. 

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According to the new bill, the penalties for displaying a single tobacco product, even if it’s left on the counter inadvertently, will be a fine and/ or 10 years in prison.  

“While the bill contains many absurd restrictions, the ban on displaying a legal tobacco product in a specialist tobacco store is tantamount to a complete ban on the sale of those products.  As a specialist tobacco retailer, I can’t imagine what my store will look like if I can’t display any of the products that I sell.  At the very least, the government should exempt specialist tobacconists, who don’t sell products to anyone younger than 18.  Those that enter our stores, only do so to buy tobacco products,” Bravo said.

Bravo also owned Sturks, the oldest tobacco store in South Africa, established in 1793, which she had to shut down because of government’s Covid-related tobacco ban.

She warned that government would never be able to undo the damage of its bad legislative decisions.  

“The new bill,” she said, “is simply a ban by another name, which is going to further entrench criminality and the prevalence and availability of cheap, illegal products which don’t contribute a single cent to the fiscus and undermine government’s health objectives.”  

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The tobacco bill also aims to introduce plain packaging, which means that all packs of cigarettes and other tobacco products will look the same, with the same colour, font and health warnings and pictures.

Bravo mentioned that since this removed any brand differentiation, and made it extremely easy to copy, it was going to exacerbate South Africa’s growing counterfeit product problem.

She said that there was no evidence that bans and prohibitions work.

“In fact, we have seen in South Africa that they don’t. Education, enforcement and awareness of tobacco-related health issues, and the benefits of switching to non-combustible tobacco products, such as heat-not-burn, e-cigarettes and vapes, seem to me to be the sensible way to drive behavioural change. It’s frustrating that our government learned nothing from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“But we, as citizens and small business owners, certainly did. We learned that unless we speak up against ridiculous laws, the government will simply proceed with no regard for the real impact of its actions. So, as the government prepares to railroad this bill into law, I implore every citizen and small business owner to speak up against this draconian piece of legislation.”

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