From the news desk

Goverment urged to criminalise selling of illicit tobacco

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Spaza shops‚ tuckshops and hawkers could face the brunt of government’s news anti-smoking laws – with some fearing they will either have to shut down or simply break the law.

Banning the “loose” from South African shops and streets is a particular problem area.

This is according to the South African Spaza and Tuckshop Association (SASTA)‚ which is opposing government’s plan – via the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill – to force smokers to quit‚ and non-smokers to never take up the habit.

Together with AgriSA and the Food and Agricultural Workers Union‚ SASTA has declared the controversial bill – set to ban single cigarette sales‚ introduce plain packaging and impose display bans – a “Criminals’ Charter”.

The association’s president Rose Nkosi said single cigarettes made up a “huge majority” of sales for spaza shops‚ tuckshops‚ general dealers‚ hair salons and clothing stalls.

“Our customers cannot afford to buy full packs‚ especially at tax paid prices. If only full packs are available‚ our customers will only be able to afford to purchase illegal tobacco which is what they will do.

“This measure effectively bans our entire cigarette trade. Like the display ban‚ it will force all our members to either break the law or close up.”

Under the proposed law‚ retailers will not be allowed to display cigarettes and market tobacco and vaping products.

Nkosi said government appeared to want small retailers to “play an absurd game of hide and seek every time a customer asks for a cigarette”.

AgriSA’s Piet Roos said plain packaging would increase illicit cigarette trade.

“It has already been established that the tobacco for illicit cigarettes are sourced from outside South Africa and sold below legally required excise rate levels. This means that South African tobacco farms and surrounding communities will bear the brunt of the proposed bill largely by way of job losses‚” he said.

FAWU general secretary Katishi Masemola said the bill would “finish off legal cigarettes in townships for ever and be the end of law abiding tobacco production in South Africa”.

“This attack on the informal economy‚ law abiding businesses and South African farmers. The deadline for public comment on the Bill was on August 9‚” said Masemola.

For Buti Tshabalala‚ who is already battling to make ends meet selling goods at her spaza shop in Soweto‚ the fear is that the competition will get tougher each year – and is worried that proposed new tobacco laws‚ if implemented‚ will make her situation even worse.

“We are trying to feed our families and things are bad as it is. We are surrounded by foreign shop owners who can sell their products for low prices. We don’t have that luxury. We are already battling to compete with them‚ now this. What will happen when I can’t display my stock?” Tshabalala asked.


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