Cigarette ‘proof of purchase’ law: Five things smokers need to know

After losing the crusade against alcohol, Bheki Cele is doubling down on the mere possession of cigarettes. The controversial police minister says he’s willing to enforce a ‘proof of purchase’ law that would compel South Africans to tell authorities where they got their smokes from.

Bheki Cele comes down on tobacco

Cele wants those with ciggies upon their person to provide proof of purchase, showing that they bought the items legally before lockdown came into effect and banned the sale of tobacco. Good luck to everyone who is currently scrambling to find a two-month receipt, by the way…

But, as we edge towards the beginning of Level 3 lockdown regulations on Monday, Bheki Cele and the strong-arm of the law will look to flex their muscle even further. Here’s what you need to know about the contentious policy, which has already drawn some fairly scathing criticism:

Smokers told to ‘provide a receipt, proof of purchase’ for cigarettes – five things to take note of:

It doesn’t matter if you’re actually smoking or not

The top cop has stated that you only have to be in possession of cigarettes to prompt a question about ‘proof of purchase’. It does not solely apply to people who are caught in the act of smoking. You can, however, smoke in the comfort of your own home without being questioned.

Quantities won’t matter

Whether it’s one cigarette or a whole pack, the police and law enforcement officials will ask the same questions.

How will it be criminalised?

Cele wants people under no illusions; failure to show proof of purchase will constitute a ‘criminal offence’ during Level 3. Although he has also stated there will be no repercussions for those in possession of a receipt. Those who fail to provide proof of purchase could be fined, or even arrested in some cases.

Where are people likely to be stopped?

The minister has said that checks will be in place at certain roadblocks. Ominously, he also said on Thursday that “nobody must be moving without being able to tell us where they’re going“. Someone get him a looser hat, please.

But it’s highly doubtful the police can actually prosecute anyone on this matter…

Former High Court Judge James Grant became the loudest dissenting voice on this matter earlier this month. He rubbished the claims made by Bheki Cele, saying that this policy has ‘no legal grounding’:

“No person may be compelled to given an explanation to a police officer as to any circumstance in which she or he is found without infringing that person’s right to silence. So no, one should not be legally arrested for failing or refusing to explain how one came into possession of cigarettes.”

James Grant



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