Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

The tobacco sales ban is a giant stimulus package for organised crime

This week I had a brief face-to-face conversation with my good friend Matthew. On the advice of my lawyer/mate Justin, I add that this conversation took place under entirely legal circumstances, and won’t give any specific details of how this meeting occurred. 

I should also point out that smoking, next to talking about the clutch system on Porsches made before 1980, is one of Matthew’s favourite pastimes. So it wasn’t particularly unusual that he was smoking during this pleasant chat. What was unusual was the fact that he was smoking a slender cigarette with a somewhat garish gold band around it. A cigarette that I’m pretty sure was designed for women. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it gloried under the name of “Virginia Slim” or something like that, but I do suspect that it had a feminine, French-sounding name and was specifically created with the over-50 female market in mind. 

When I raised the issue of his highly gendered cigarette, Matthew began to blaspheme as only a man who has paid 300 bucks for a packet of ladies cigarettes can blaspheme. It was a magisterial performance. During this tirade, it emerged that although he was spending a fortune every week on cigarettes, he wasn’t smoking any less. He was just spending a lot more on cigarettes that he heartily disliked.

This is because Matthew, like hundreds of thousands of smokers in our country, is now affected by a government policy that is providing a gigantic stimulus package for organised crime. By banning the legal sale of these very unhealthy items, the government has diverted vast sums of money  from the treasury, which would spend the money on building schools and primary healthcare, into the hands of organised crime, which will spend the money on brightly coloured sports cars and skimpy lingerie for their mistresses. 

The treasury has thus far lost about R1.5-billion in revenue, and the organised crime syndicates have benefited accordingly. That’s an awful lot of brightly coloured sports cars and lingerie for mistresses. 

The thing is that bans of this nature have already tried out and we should have learned that they don’t work. From 1920 to 1933 the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcohol was outlawed in the United States. (But drinking alcohol wasn’t prohibited.) The Prohibition resulted in the well-documented rise of powerful criminal syndicates such as the Al Capone gang. And the Kennedys. Historians have documented how the Prohibition reduced, but failed to completely stop the consumption of alcohol.  

While other industries like clothing, tourism and construction are being left to wither away like a geranium left in the Sahara desert by an absent-minded gardener, organised crime has been (wittingly or unwittingly) carefully taken care of through the biggest stimulus package since the US government kindly pumped billions of dollars into the investment banks which had brought the world to its knees though their reckless sub-prime mortgage lending. 

I have no doubt that many of the players behind the cigarette ban have only the best of intentions — nobody is arguing that cigarettes are a good thing — the results of this ban are likely to be the opposite of what its creators intended. 

The sellers of brightly coloured sports cars and manufacturers of exotic lingerie for mistresses will probably heartily disagree.

John Davenport is the chief creative officer at Havas advertising company. He writes in his personal capacity

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

John Davenport
John Davenport is the chief creative officer of Havas Southern Africa.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Cabinet reshuffle not on cards yet

There are calls for the president to act against ministers said to be responsible for the state’s slow response to the unrest, but his hands are tied

Rwanda’s involvement in Ramaphosa phone surveillance will further strain relations

But experts doubt the South African intelligence community has the capacity even to establish whether Ramaphosa’s phone was compromised

More top stories

Sierra Leoneans want a share of mining profits, or they...

The arrival of a Chinese gold mining company in Kono, a diamond-rich district in the east of Sierra Leone, had a devastating impact on the local community, cutting its water supply and threatening farmers’ livelihoods – and their attempts to seek justice have been frustrated at every turn

IEC to ask the courts to postpone local elections

The chairperson of the Electoral Commission of South Africa said the Moseneke inquiry found that the elections would not be free and fair if held in October

Daily new Covid-19 cases drop, but recent civil unrest might...

Acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi says 120 private pharmacies were destroyed and 47 500 vaccines lost in KwaZulu-Natal

Western Cape closes roads to end deadly taxi violence

The closure of the Mbekweni/Paarl and Bellville route comes as negotiations between taxi operators fail and will affect thousands of commuters
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×