NATIONAL NEWS - With the nationwide ban on the selling of tobacco products still in place, police in Limpopo have their hands full in eradicating the trade in illicit cigarettes.
Fifteen people were arrested in the province over the span of five days, after being found in possession of illicit cigarettes. In one incident, 1 000 cartons were confiscated after the driver of a vehicle sped off after being asked to pull over.
The Provincial Police Commissioner, Lt Genl Nneke Ledwaba has urged police officers to intensify operations aimed at ridding the province of illicit cigarettes after the following arrests were made:
- Five men were arrested and illicit cigarettes worth R300 000 seized during an operation conducted in the Senwabarwana, Seshego and Rooiberg policing areas.
- In Seshego, a 30-year-old man was arrested for selling illicit cigarettes at his spaza shop. All the cigarettes were confiscated.
- Police arrested four people in Senwabarwana and Rooiberg; two were arrested during a stop-and-search where 357 cartons and several loose packets were confiscated. Two more people were arrested in Rooiberg under the Bela-Bela police cluster after they were found transporting illicit cigarettes.
- Three men appeared in the Modimolle Magistrate’s Court last Monday for the possession of illegal cigarettes and the contravention of the Disaster Management Act after they were arrested by Modimolle police after the driver failed to stop when asked to pull over. He was pursued by the police and 1 000 cartons of illicit cigarettes were confiscated.
- A 30-year-old man and 34-year-old woman were arrested in the Sebayeng policing area, and appeared before the Mankweng Magistrate’s Court for the possession of illicit cigarettes and the transportation of alcohol. The duo had also been pursued by Limpopo traffic officers, with the help of police in Sebayeng and Polokwane after initially giving chase. They remain in custody.
The sale of cigarettes has been banned since the lockdown started on 26 April, as tobacco products have not been classified as essential products or services, to much criticism from the tobacco industry and members of the public.
Between 29 April and 11 May, members of the Research Unit on the Economics of Excisable Products at the University of Cape Town, conducted an online survey among smokers to determine how they responded to the ban on cigarette sales during the lockdown, and to evaluate how the lockdown has impacted the market for cigarettes in South Africa. The survey was completed by more than 16 000 respondents. From these responses, 12 204 analysable observations were derived.
Authored by Professor Corné van Walbeek, Samantha Filby and Kirsten van der Zee, this report’s findings suggest that the ban on cigarette sales is failing in what it was supposed to do, it was stated on the research unit’s website: “While the original intention of the ban was to support public health, the current disadvantages of the ban may well outweigh the advantages.”
The study was approached from an economic perspective, and the results suggest that the ban on tobacco sales has fuelled the illicit market for cigarettes. “By exploiting the ban and the desperation of smokers, illicit traders have gained a foothold in a market where they previously could not compete on a quality basis. Accompanying this is the entrenchment of their distribution networks and payment channels. It is unlikely that these networks will dissipate after the lockdown is over,” the findings read.
In addition, the study anticipates that because the price of illicit cigarettes has increased so much over the lockdown, that a price war will ensue between the between various cigarette producers once the lockdown is over.
“This will place downward pressure on all cigarette prices in the local market and ultimately lead to increased cigarette consumption in South Africa,” according to the findings.
The study further concludes that while the revenue potential of excise taxes on tobacco products should not be exaggerated, since it contributes only 1% of total government revenue, it does not make economic sense to not collect this revenue.
“The current sales ban is feeding an illicit market that will be increasingly difficult to eradicate, even when the lockdown and the Covid-19 crisis is over. It was an error to continue with the cigarette sales ban into level 4 lockdown.” The researchers are of the view that government should lift the ban on cigarette sales as soon as possible.