The South African Tobacco Transformation Alliance (Satta) has come out guns blazing against the Health Department for proposed changes to smoking laws. Satta has slammed the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems Bill and called for an urgent assessment of the state of the legal tobacco industry in connection with illegal traders, who multiplied during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Satta chairman Ntando Sibisi warned that the passing of the Bill, which was initially introduced in 2018, was dangerous and reckless as it sought to impose restrictions on an already crippled sector.
And he accused the state’s consultation process of being a sham.
“More than 21,000 comments had been received when the tobacco Bill was first published for public comment, and yet the latest version of the bill remains unchanged,” he said. Sibisi questioned whether the department believed that the comments made during the first consultation process were insignificant.
“It feels like a mere box-ticking exercise, and we believe that makes this process a sham,” he said.
Sibisi also criticised the government for not taking steps to examine how the industry had changed during the pandemic due to lockdown regulations and illegal cigarette trading. Tobacco companies and SMMEs lost millions in revenue when the country decided to ban smoking and vaping for months in an effort to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Also, around 35,000 jobs were lost in the industry and 49,000 across the sector.
“It is common knowledge that the industry has been devastated by the ban on cigarette sales that was incorrectly and unilaterally introduced by government…, yet this has been completely ignored in the framing and proposed implementation of the Bill,” he said.
“The entire legal tobacco industry is currently in the intensive care unit, with massive losses in income, revenue and jobs. “It is also common knowledge that the illicit tobacco sector – the non-taxpaying, non-regulated criminal networks who ran riot during the lockdown – have effectively taken over the market,” Sibisi said.
He said new research conducted by NKC African Economics on behalf of Satta had found that excise receipts were down by 34.9% year-on-year and illicit sales are up 36% year-on-year. For the first time, illicit sales outnumbered legal sales, with the criminal networks now holding 51% of the market, compared to 36% in 2019, Sibisi said.
Satta proposed that the department abandon this process, and instead conducted an independent detailed evidence-based impact assessment covering the full value chain. It had to be based on the current dynamics of the industry.
The Bill aims to comprehensively prohibit smoking in public spaces.