Recently, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize controversially stated that the country was not yet ready to lift the ban on alcohol and cigarettes. While admitting the pressure on hospitals had been reduced, and the recovery rate now sitting above 70%, Mkhize still emphasised more work needed to be done before alcohol and cigarette sales could resume.
Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) and the South African Medical Research Council are among several organisations calling for the ban on alcohol and cigarette sales to be lifted, as they feel the ban has served its purpose.
Tebele Luthuli of BLSA says the government needs to start focusing on collecting every cent it can, from tax revenue, as this will go a long way in saving the country’s economy.
Adding to the above, he explains, the ban is fuelling the illicit trade of both tobacco and alcohol products, thereby weakening the private sector’s contribution to employment opportunities. This and the fact being that the ban is diminishing long-term economic growth, is yet another glaring reason to remedy this ASAP.
With mass amounts of pressure developing daily on the already beaten economy, Luthuli says that they (BLSA) support the call on government to rethink the decision on the ban on alcohol and cigarettes sales. A decision which will dramatically aid in steering the SA economy onto a path of recovery.
Resonating with the BLSA’s statement, lawyers representing British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA) stress that the economic cost of the tobacco ban far outweighs the benefits.
This forms part of the central argument by BATSA in its court challenge to have the ban lifted. Furthermore, the company adds the ban also infringes on the right to privacy as well as trade rights
BATSA is also raising questions around the scientific studies which the government is using to continue the ban.
The group notes that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s main arguments for the ban, rely on scientific studies which highlight that smoking may increase the risk of transmission, of the virus.
However, BATSA argues that these studies are not conclusive and are at times contradictory. BATSA draws attention to one specific study relied on by Dlamini-Zuma which shows that:
The scientific literature does not support the claim that there is an increased risk of COVID-19 infection among smokers.
There is consistent evidence from a number of studies suggesting that smokers might actually have a lower risk of infection. As well as reflecting that smokers might not even develop COVID-19 at a level of severity which requires hospitalisation.
BATSA head of external affairs, Johnny Moloto, adds the ban has cost more than R4.5 billion in lost excise tax revenue. It has also put 300,000 jobs at risk.
While BATSA demands answers, the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) has approached the Supreme Court of Appeal. This after the high court dismissed Fita’s legal challenge on the current tobacco ban.
Fita argues that they are not disputing that smoking is harmful or dangerous, but are requesting clarity on the link between smokers and COVID-19 putting a strain on the healthcare system. A truly valid question, in the pot of valid questions which are lacking the correct answers from Government.
Co-operative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has accused the association of being disingenuous by submitting that the high court had failed to correctly interpret the legal requirement of necessity in the Disaster Management Act for restrictions imposed by the government.
Regardless of the blinding science on the topic and reality of our economy’s future, Dlamini-Zuma still sticks to her guns and emphasises the measures are necessary if South Africa is to come through the pandemic intact. Adversely, she still believes the ban is necessary to protect the public.
There are also numerous arguments pertaining to the ban on alcohol sales.
Former Shoprite Chief Executive, Whitey Basson has joined the call against South Africa’s ban on alcohol sales. As well as the damage it can do to the country’s economy.
He has now signed an affidavit in support of a court case against the ban, a court case which is being put forward by the Southern African Agri Initiative (Saai).
Adding to this, Diageo’s Director for Corporate Relations, Sibani Mngadi, claims liquor traders are losing approximately R300 million a day. All because of the ban on the sale of alcohol.
Sibani Mngadi revealed this during a public dialogue by female alcohol traders in Soweto on Friday, 7 August 2020.
Mngadi said the data government used to justify the ban on liquor sales didn’t include hospitals built in the past 20 years. In fact, Mngadi highlights people visiting hospital trauma units are not tested for alcohol consumption. However, Mngadi says they will not be taking the government to court on the matter.
Brewing and beverage company Distell, has claimed the alcohol industry has already cost 118 000 jobs. According to the company, nearly 800 small and medium-sized liquor manufacturers are also facing bankruptcy.
Furthermore, Distell has explained the alcohol industry supports approximately 35 000 township based small and medium enterprises. All of which are now suffering due to the ban on alcohol sales.
As Zuma defends her disproved hypothesis on the alcohol and tobacco ban. It is now very clear that COVID-19 is becoming the last of our concerns. As there is an economic crisis hanging in the winds, brewing at a rapid rate.
We will keep you updated as this developing topic.
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Author: Quinton Boucher
Editor: Calvin Swemmer