Pressure mounts on government to lift ban on the sale of alcohol and tobacco

2020-05-23 16:05

With government expected to announce the easing of lockdown regulations to level 3 next week, the SA Informal Traders Alliance (Saita) and the alcohol industry are pilling on the pressure, lobbying the national command council to also lift the ban on alcohol and tobacco sales, some of the stringent measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus.

The Saita and the Johannesburg Informal Traders Association have also questioned government’s lack of consultation with the informal sector which employs 20% of all the employed South Africans, according to Statistics SA last year.

Rosheda Muller, Saita national president, told City Press on Saturday: “We have this week lobbied the national command council to also lift the ban on alcohol and tobacco sell as the country heads to level three.

“Beyond this, we have also urged them to consult with informal traders as there has been no such engagements since this pandemic started yet the industry is one of the most affected by the stringent measures put in place by government to curb the spread of this pandemic,” said Muller.

She said more worrying was that government could consult with big businesses in the National Economic Development and Labour Council during their monthly meeting “but yet can’t spare any time to consult with one of the biggest employers, the informal traders”.

The ban is not stopping people from smoking. But instead of buying cigarettes from their usual informal traders, they are buying illicit products from criminals
Rosheda Muller, Saita national president

Muller said among their arguments to the command council was that informal traders felt the tobacco ban was diverting income meant to go to them to criminal networks.

“As such, Saita has pleaded with government to urgently lift the ban on tobacco sales, as it is diverting much-needed income from the informal traders to illicit criminal networks.

“The ban is not stopping people from smoking. But instead of buying cigarettes from their usual informal traders, they are buying illicit products from criminals. In other words, our government is taking food from the mouths of hard-working traders and giving it to crooks.

“Many of our members sell single cigarettes, usually costing about R1 each. Every box sold by the illicit trade is another R20 our members are losing out on, and right now – even R20 can make a difference to the lives of our members – who are living hand to mouth,” said Muller.

She warned that while the pandemic was a crisis, and that tough measures had to be taken to limit the spread of the virus, there was no reason to ban tobacco.

“When our President [Cyril Ramaphosa] asked us to make the ultimate sacrifice in the best interests of the country, and go into lockdown eight weeks ago, we listened, despite knowing the devastating impact it would have on our lives and livelihoods. We listened to our leaders because they shared with us the evidence and experience of other countries, and explained why the lockdown was important.”

Read: Illegal cigarette sellers cash in as desperate people are prepared to pay exorbitant prices

She said no other countries banned tobacco under lockdown “and everywhere I hear our scientists saying there is no evidence for the ban and that the ban doesn’t make sense”.

Ntakuseni Tshikosi, Johannesburg Informal Traders Platform spokesperson, echoed Muller’s call for government to consult with informal traders. “Thousands of informal traders across Gauteng are deeply concerned that government has not consulted them to understand the impact of the lockdown on their livelihoods.”

The platform, a non-profit organisation which represents thousands of informal traders across the province, called on government to open the economy, including allowing the sale of cigarettes and hot food.

“While we understand that the president has the unenviable task of balancing lives and livelihoods, we are disappointed that all measures in place benefit everyone except informal traders.

"Allowing restaurants to open for takeaways, and opening the economy to e-commerce while good, does not serve the informal traders at all,” Tshikosi said.

“None of our members have access to Uber Eats or the internet, so they are feeling sidelined. We urgently require a comprehensive intervention that will alleviate the hardship they are experiencing.”

Tshikosi said the lockdown, and specifically the cigarette and hot foods bans, were taking a toll on the emotional and financial well-being of informal traders across the country.

“The only relief they have is a R350 grant, that unfortunately is not enough, said Tshikosi.

He added that townships were starting to see an increase in crimes as people “resort to crimes due to hunger and desperation, and even the infiltration of overpriced, substandard illicit goods such as cigarettes which is what we are against as the traders platform”.

The alcohol industry has also called for collaboration with government “in the safe reopening of trade during level 3”.

The industry said this would protect more than a million jobs in the sector.

Read: Surge in patients being treated for illnesses related to home-made booze

“The alcohol industry is committed to helping restart the country’s economy to save the livelihoods of our people while at the same time taking appropriate safety measures to curb the spread of the pandemic.

"As an industry, we create employment for more than a million people across the value chain. We contribute 3% to the country’s GDP and make an indirect tax contribution – VAT – customs and excise revenue of R51 billion.

“The alcohol industry, therefore, urgently calls on government to reopen the manufacturing, distribution and trade of alcohol during level 3 of the lockdown,” said the industry in a statement this week.

It said in recent engagements with government, industry associations including SA Liquor Brand Owners Association, Beer Association of SA and VinPro, had made various submissions and proposals to the department of trade, industry and competition.

These proposals included the call to allow for taverns and micro brewers to be granted off-consumption trading licenses to enable them to trade legally.

The industry argued that “a click and collect” model had been developed for the 34 500 licensed taverns, which would ensure that social distancing was adhered to, as people would not queue to purchase.

SA Breweries vice-president for cooperate affairs, Zoleka Lisa, said the company and its industry partners were proposing the establishment of a working group with government. The group would discuss and jointly develop a modality for the resumption of the sale and trade of alcohol during level 3 of the national lockdown.

As an industry, we create employment for more than a million people across the value chain. We contribute 3% to the country’s GDP and make an indirect tax contribution – VAT – customs and excise revenue of R51 billion
Alcohol industry

“SAB is grateful for government’s constructive engagement on the issue of transporting its inventory, and proud that it could reach a solution in collaboration with government that avoided massive financial losses and saved jobs,” said Lisa.

She added that as government considered how to address the reopening of the trade under the risk-adjusted strategy in level 3, consideration should be given to the sale and trade of beer.

According to Lisa, SAB had developed plans and solutions for safe off-premise sales but still wanted more engagement with the command council.

“To this end, we propose to work with government to help define a policy that is predicated on clearly prescribed guidelines that minimise the risk of spreading the virus,” she said.

SAB proposed the sale of liquor be permitted during the following operating hours, this is subject to social distancing protocols and good hygiene practices and no overcrowding and long queues:

  • Online trade or e-commerce permitted but no deliveries during the curfew hours of 8pm to 9am;
  • Off consumption trade between 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday; 9am to 4pm on Saturdays. Closed on Sundays and public holidays; and

  • These hours should align with the normal store trading hours and available public transport.

The company also proposed its own operational safety measures:

  • Across all phases we will adhere to strict hygiene practices and social distancing across all sites;

  • Personal protective equipment will be provided to all staff on site;

  • Temperature screenings will be done at all points of entry to our premises; and

  • The company will maximise the amount of employees working from home, with a gradual increase in on-site working from level 4 to level 1.

Meanwhile, News24 on Friday reported that Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told the council that the ban on tobacco and alcohol should continue until level 1 of the lockdown.

According to the report, Dlamini-Zuma was supported by Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi as she believed it would be too high a health risk to lift the ban from June 1.

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May 31 2020