Lift cigarettes, alcohol ban to steer economy to recovery – Business Leadership SA

Restaurant staff and supporters of The Local Grill picket in Parktown North, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

‘The unintended consequences of this ban have caused harm that far outweighs whatever positive outcomes it hoped to achieve,’ BLSA says.

Business Leadership South Africa says it supports the call on government “to rethink its decision on the ban of cigarette and alcohol sales in order to steer SA’s economy back on path to recovery”.

“Despite its honest purpose, the unintended consequences of this ban have caused harm that far outweighs whatever positive outcomes it hoped to achieve,” BLSA has said in a statement.

A recent UCT study found that the ban on the tobacco products has done nothing more than fuel the illicit trade industry and the researchers called for its immediate repeal, it said.

“Furthermore, Crime Stoppers International, a non-profit organisation focusing on transnational crime, last week also called for the tobacco sales ban to be lifted, noting that it had provided a huge stimulus to the illicit trade in cigarettes, which was already an unwelcome drain on the South African economy before lockdown.

“During the lockdown, criminal syndicates have benefited from the ban as it has provided them with opportunities which have been at the expense of legitimate business activity and public safety as the products sold are unregulated. Consumers rely on effective institutions and law enforcement to protect them from the risks of illicit goods,” the statement read.

“The lockdown has made it even more profitable to trade in illegal tobacco and alcohol products,” says Tebele Luthuli, managing director of Business Against Crime SA and director of policy and legislation at BLSA.

“Supply and demand have meant that sellers can charge premium prices. This illegal practice has weakened the private sector’s contribution to employment opportunities and long-term economic growth. This will eventually undermine the rule of law and citizens’ trust in government.”

Luthuli says the bans have also led to a loss of tax revenue from the sale of cigarettes and alcohol which is instead diverted to illegal-trade criminals who have taken full advantage.

“Our government desperately needs every cent through tax revenue to curb this scourge and save lives, which will ultimately be used to build the shattered economy once this pandemic is over.

“The government needs to be flexible around the issue of the alcohol ban. We also welcome and support the recommendations from the South African [Medical] Research Council calling for the lifting of alcohol ban, saying there is no extreme pressure on hospital beds set aside to treat Covid-19 patients,” Luthuli says.

The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) believes the ban on the sale of alcohol “should not be a long-term solution,” and it is necessary to balance the risk of Covid-19 community transmissions increasing if the booze ban is relaxed with that of the livelihoods of South African citizens, The Citizen reported earlier.

SAMRC’s alcohol, tobacco and other drug research unit director Professor Charles Parry explained the importance of getting the balancing act of restaurants wanting to sell alcohol, and ensuring society’s health as a whole, just right.

The SAMRC put forward ideas on how to achieve a balanced approach to the Ministerial Advisory Council on 7 July.

“One was a modelling of the effect of an eight week (temporary) sales ban on alcohol, and the other was a basket of interventions aimed at better regulating alcohol availability, drunk driving, and marketing of alcohol,” Parry said.

He explained that now that capacity at hospitals has been increased, “we need to have discussions around going back to the basket of interventions to implement when alcohol sales resume.”

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