As government squares off against British American Tobacco SA (Batsa) in the Western Cape High Court over governments’ cigarette ban, Tax Justice SA founder Yusuf Abramjee, who has filed an affidavit supporting the challenge led by Batsa, said the nation stood at a defining moment, where huge implications of the ruling will decide whether criminals continued to make billions of rands in the illegal cigarette trade.
Abramjee says the case will decide the fate of almost 300 000 honest workers whose jobs depend on the legal tobacco industry and the many more families who depend on them to put bread on the table in some communities.
“It is a watershed moment when South Africans will be told whether we live in a country where honesty and hard work is rewarded, or if crime really does pay. Whether our lawmakers must adhere to the Constitution and common sense, or if dictators lead by decree and personal agendas.
“For the sake of our future, we must hope that our judges put an end to this hugely damaging and unworkable prohibition.”
Abramjee’s affidavit in support of Batsa highlights how the ban has fueled an apparent increase in the illicit trade.
“It is almost 19 weeks since the ban was first imposed and smokers are still smoking – they are just buying their cigarettes at sky-high prices via sophisticated criminal networks that make R100 million every day.
“Latest research by the University of Cape Town shows that five times as many smokers are now sharing single cigarettes, thereby helping to spread the virus.
“Daily the ban deprives the fiscus of R35 million in tobacco excise taxes alone. That is money desperately needed to fight the virus and rebuild our economy at a time when we are signing up for huge loans from overseas.
“We’ve lost over R4.5 billion already, while children are going hungry. Criminals have made R13 billion, while thousands of decent citizens have lost their jobs.
“The ban has been broken from day one of lockdown. It should not be allowed to break our nation for a single day longer,” Abramjee said.