Those who indulge in alcohol and tobacco products have been in uproar since ministers in an inter-ministrial briefing announced that the sale of alcohol and tobacco will be deemed “non-essential” during the 21-day lockdown period. This will commence at midnight on Thursday, March 26.

On-consumption liquor premises such as bars, taverns and shebeens will be closed throughout the 21 days, and off-consumption liquor premises such as supermarkets and liquor stores will also be prohibited from selling alcohol.

It is yet unclear whether the sale of cigarettes will be “illegal” during the lockdown, but it is clear that the product is categorised as a “non-essential” item. Supermarkets have been mandated to only sell products that are considered essential.

“Traders will be limited ‘only to sell the essential good that are set out in the regulations’. We have a 21-day lockdown, it’s not a year, it’s not two years. It’s a 21-day lockdown to try to see if we can contain this. We have to contain the spread of the virus, we have an enormous population of immuno-compromised persons,” Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel said.

“On the items that people can buy, obviously we wanted to keep the list as short and simple as possible so that we can do a quick turn around at shops so that people spend the minimum amount of time there, and travel as infrequently to the shops as possible. Cigarettes is not a basic good.”

Minister of Police Bheki Cele informed South Africans that they will just need to remain sober for 21 days.

Research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has proven that tobacco is addictive and reduces lung capacity. This may be an important detail in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. The same citation also stipulates that the increasing excise taxes on tobacco works in reducing the product’s consumption.

The tobacco industry has been ferocious in its opposition to any tobacco control measures, including excise tax increases. Under the present government, the policy on tobacco and tobacco control is unlikely to change. The industry has had to drastically change its marketing strategy under these difficult external conditions,” the WHO said. 

Currently, those who smoke are advised to be prepared to not be able to purchase tobacco during the lockdown.

“An issue of considerable importance in many countries is that of cigarette smuggling. In South Africa, whenever the excise tax on tobacco products is increased, the industry claims that this will increase smuggling activities. Unfortunately, given the dishonest character of cigarette smuggling, accurate data do not exist. Over the past decade there have been very few reports of smuggled or counterfeit cigarettes being impounded by the South African police or customs authorities. While this is not meant to imply that cigarette smuggling is not a problem, it can be said with confidence that South Africa does not experience the cigarette smuggling problems currently experienced by the UK and, in previous years, by Canada,” the WHO added. “Also, considering the official consumption statistics, the decrease in cigarette consumption in the past decade seems reasonable in view of the very sharp increase in the real price of cigarettes.”

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