Almost 300 000 jobs are at risk

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Nearly 300 000 jobs are at risk if government continues with its ban on cigarette sales during the Covid-19 lockdown, according to the South Africa Tobacco Transformation Alliance (SATTA).

The alliance — which unites tobacco farmers, processors and producers — has launched a national campaign under the hashtag #LiftTheBanSA in a bid to protect the more than 296 000 people who rely on the free flow of activity across the tobacco value chain for their livelihoods.

“Their jobs, and those of their dependents, have been directly threatened by the ban on cigarettes sales, which has been in place for more than 120 days,” says SATTA chairman Shadrack Ntando Sibisi. “During the same period, illegal tobacco sellers have been making millions of rands a day selling smuggled cigarettes to South African consumers.

“This has resulted in a loss of approximately R4-billion in tax revenue for the South African Revenue Service (SARS). It is clear that the only winners here are the tobacco smugglers and the illicit salespeople. It is totally unacceptable that a legitimate, taxpaying business sector should be taken to the brink of ruin in such a way.

“Farmers are suffering, as are tobacco processors. Farmers cannot plant with certainty as long as the ban is in place, and tobacco processors are in the dark as to when they can resume activities again. Legal tobacco manufacturers have also been adversely impacted. This has led to reduced services of long-standing contracts with suppliers and distributors,” says Sibisi.

“We are talking about people’s livelihoods here. Breadwinners are not earning an income, they cannot feed or clothe their families, and they cannot afford to send their children to school. It is a disastrous situation, and it has been created by the government without any convincing evidence that a ban on smoking will help in any way to combat Covid-19.

“South Africa is the only country in the world that has banned cigarettes. There is no justification for it, and we call on government to immediately lift the ban and allow cigarettes to be sold in the same way as before the lockdown.”

SATTA has been joined in its campaign by a number of other stakeholders across the value chain. The Black Tobacco Farmers Association (BTFA), for example, is fully behind the campaign, and says its membership — almost 200 black tobacco farmers — are “on the brink of extinction”.

“We are unable to plan or plant; we are unable to harvest or sell. Soon, our businesses will go down the drain,” says BTFA.

“Government must immediately lift the ban and allow cigarettes to be sold in the same way as before the lockdown — before it is too late.”

Limpopo Tobacco Processors (LTP) — the biggest single supplier of tobacco leaf to domestic buyers in South Africa — has also called for the ban to be lifted.

“Our operations have effectively been put on ice because of the ban. This has jeopardized the economic future of our members and is threatening thousands of jobs across the tobacco value chain,” the organisation says.

“We are also concerned at the massive growth in the cigarette black market during the lockdown. According to our calculations, approximately R36-million in tax revenue is being lost every day because of the ban on sales.

“We call on government to immediately lift the ban and allow cigarettes to be sold again.”

Additional support for the campaign has come from Soweto Business Access (SBA), an advocacy group for economic upliftment in township and villages since 2015.

“We are alarmed at the rate at which the underworld syndicates are now brazenly and openly taking over the tobacco retail sector due to the lockdown regulations,” says SBA.

“We believe that, having taken over this sector the syndicates will never want to leave our communities, given that their new outlets now offer more opportunities for them to sell more drugs. Therefore, the health of our society and jobs — from those offered by black tobacco farmer right up to those offered in spaza and shops — are at risk, not only now but in future.

“We urge the government to protect societies from these syndicates by immediately lifting the ban on the sale of cigarettes.”

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