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Ministers are “running away from cigarette justice”

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Tax Justice SA (TJSA) has accused the government of “running away from justice” and “destroying lives even when retreating” by delaying an urgent application to lift the tobacco sales ban.

A case brought by British American Tobacco (BATSA), which had been scheduled to be heard on 30 June 2020, has been put back to 5 August.

TJSA founder Yusuf Abramjee says: “This is further proof that Ministers know they cannot legally justify their irrational prohibition of cigarettes.

“The Government side has read irrefutable arguments against the ban. But instead of arguing their own case in court or accepting defeat, they have chosen to run away from justice.

“This inexcusable delay extends the misery for smokers, robs the fiscus of an extra R1.4 billion in vital taxes and threatens thousands of jobs.

“Ministers say the ban is for health reasons, but their cowardly response is destroying lives even while they are in retreat.

“They have had more than three months to come up with a plausible legal, economic or scientific explanation for this ban.  Now they want another six weeks.”

Botswana lifted its tobacco ban this week, meaning South Africa is the only nation in the world to prohibit cigarettes as a means of fighting Covid-19.

In the application to the Cape High Court, TJSA has filed a supporting affidavit outlining the ban’s disastrous contribution to the illicit economy.  

“Ministers are effectively handing the tobacco trade to organised crime,” says Abramjee. “Every day the ban continues, the crooks are becoming more firmly entrenched and enriched.

“During three months of lockdown decent South Africans have lost more than R3 billion in excise duties alone. That money is desperately needed to fight the crisis gripping our country.

“Tax Justice SA urges the President to show true leadership and call time on this failed and costly experiment in changing the behaviour of 11 million law-abiding citizens who choose to smoke.”