GEORGE ROUTE DISTRICT NEWS - An irate smoker from Johannesburg has started an online campaign requesting government to urgently lift the ban on the selling of cigarettes during lockdown.
“We as smokers of South Africa, are asking for the reopening and sales of cigarettes at shops, to deem this also basic essentials, the reason being you can't just take someone using drugs and say now you stop and go on with your life."
"They need to go to a rehab for treatment and the help they need. Same goes for cigarettes. You can't just tell people to stop especially in this time where stress levels are higher than normal without even suggesting additional help. We don't want to revert to buying and selling illegal cigarettes. We appreciate and understand the lockdown and what it means and we are complying with the rules and regulations that is set out for us. We are asking for help with the main retailers to open sales of cigarettes.”
Vernon Swanepoel from Johannesburg says smokers are getting more and more anxious and frustrated about this situation. “We want to prevent them from leaving their homes and keep the people calm. We urge you to please speak to your managers, newspapers and government officials to please assist the people who smoke in South Africa. Please assist us. Please can anyone of you forward, share or add anything that can help this matter and the people.”
Garden Route District
This follows a news report published by George Herald on Sunday 29 March that the sale of cigarettes would once again be allowed in the Western Cape. The report drew the attention of smokers countrywide, who wanted to know if their provinces would follow suit.
Garden Route District Municipality in the Western Cape announced on Sunday that the ban on the sale of cigarettes had been reversed. “Businesses who sold cigarettes will be allowed to do so again.” It stressed that only grocers that form part of the selling of essential items would be allowed to sell cigarettes again, but not tobacco-only traders.
Gerhard Otto, Garden Route disaster manager, told George Herald the decision to reverse the ban on cigarettes was communicated by the police’s legal department to all the municipalities in the Western Cape on Sunday, at their daily early morning digital operations meeting. It seems the main motivation behind the “lifting” of the ban was to curb the sale of illegal cigarettes on the black market.
However, it seems the Garden Route announcement was premature and the uncertainty around the buying of cigarettes during lockdown continued after an announcement by national police spokesman, Brig Vish Naidoo, on Sunday evening.
Naidoo said that cigarettes and tobacco were not essential items and would therefore not be for sale. They did not appear on the essential items list issued by the government late last week.
This was in line with what ministers said at the justice, crime prevention and security cluster briefing ahead of the lockdown last week.
Smokers, however, have warned that sudden withdrawal from smoking could lead to desperate measures like breaking into shops to get hold of tobacco products.
The SA Tobacco Alliance has warned that the ban of sales could turn the 11 million smokers in the country into criminals as they try to get hold of their daily fix.
Illegal trade will flourish
Ntando Shadrack Sibisi, chairman of the South African Tobacco Transformation Alliance, said smokers would look elsewhere if they could not buy cigarettes close to home. “The national lockdown shouldn’t be an experiment in getting smokers to quit,” he said. “The regulations are intended to stop people moving around, which they will do in search of their favourite brands.” According to Sibisi, the logical solution would be to see cigarettes at the point of sale closest to their homes where grocery shopping is allowed.
So far, most supermarkets in the Garden Route district, that includes the municipalities of Bitou, Knysna, George, Mossel Bay, Hessequa, Kannaland and Oudtshoorn, have not re-commenced the sale of cigarettes as they are waiting for a national directive regarding the situation.
According to www.businessinsider.co.za, high level discussions are underway to allow cigarettes to be sold during the lockdown.
George Herald approached tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris SA for comment, but they declined to respond.
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