SA Tobacco Alliance blasts ‘political power play’ upholding cigarette ban

The South Africa Tobacco Transformation Alliance (SATTA) has issued a scathing response to government, following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration concerning the continued prohibition of cigarettes under Level 3 lockdown.

The organisation, which represents farmers and supports transformation within the tobacco industry, has argued that government’s decision to uphold the cigarette ban was not related to health concerns amid the COVID-19 outbreak but was, instead, a result of political subversion and possible collusion with illicit traders.

Government fails submissions process

Ntando Shadrack Sibisi, SATTA chairman and founding member of the Black Tobacco Farmers’ Association (BTFA), confirmed that the Tobacco Alliance had submitted input calling for the prohibition of tobacco to be overturned. Sibisi noted, with deep concern, that government had chosen to overlook the arguments made by SATTA, industry stakeholders and hundreds of thousands of consumers. Sibisi added:

“But it’s clear the whole consultation process around the lockdown regulations was a sham, and the anti-legal tobacco lobby — which is actually the pro-illegal tobacco lobby — had won the day a long time ago.”

Cigarette ban has played no role in flattening the curve

Echoing similar arguments made by the Fair Trade Tobacco Association (Fita) — which is currently locked in a convoluted legal battle with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) – Sibisi said that government’s motives were not based on scientific evidence and the cigarette ban had no role in flattening the virus’ curve.

Sibisi argued that the prohibition has had the opposite effect to what was initially espoused by both President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize. Recent surveys show that the tobacco ban increased unnecessary movement as millions of smokers searched for high and low for cigarettes.

A more sinister political agenda?

The illicit tobacco trade, as a result of the ban, has boomed in recent weeks, robbing government coffers of much-needed excise taxes and putting ordinary South African smokers in contact with criminal elements. Sibisi noted:

“Government chooses to ignore the illicit trade problem — and the loss of billions in excise revenue – because of its double-sided campaign to turn the national lockdown into an anti-smoking drive while at the same time providing free range for cigarette bootleggers to do their fund-raising.

The irrationality behind both the health and economic reasons for the continued ban of the legal tobacco industry does not make any sense and begs the question, is there a more sinister agenda behind this decision?”

Sibisi called on government to be transparent and reveal any links between politicians and illicit cigarette traders. This comes after Cooperative Governance Minister and NCCC head, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, denied ‘being friends’ with self-confessed cigarette smuggler Adriano Mazzotti.

The alleged links between Dlamini-Zuma and Mazzotti were detailed by journalist Jacques Pauw. It’s alleged that Mazzotti funded Dlamini-Zuma’s presidential campaign against Ramaphosa. Both Mazzotti and Dlamini-Zuma have been pictured together on more than one occasion.

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