S. African Tobacco Ban Revives Minister’s Two-Decade Crusade

(Bloomberg) --

South Africa’s ban on tobacco gives cabinet minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma an opportunity to complete a crusade she began more than two decades ago: To stop people smoking.

Dlamini-Zuma, a medical doctor and former health minister, on Wednesday vehemently defended the government’s reversal of its decision to allow the sale of tobacco products when a five-week nationwide lockdown eases on Friday. The shutdown, one of the strictest in the world, outlawed the sale of alcohol and cigarettes and President Cyril Ramaphosa had said April 23 restrictions on tobacco would be relaxed.

The government received more than 2,000 submissions about the proposal to end the moratorium, and the decision to retain it is health-related, Dlamini-Zuma said. She cited the effects of tobacco on human lungs, and said “the way tobacco is shared does not allow for social distancing,” and encourages the spread of the virus.

“When people zol, they put saliva on the paper, and then they share that zol,” Dlamini-Zuma said, using a local term for hand-rolled cigarettes that sometimes contain cannabis.

Research into tobacco and Covid-19 is continuing. While the World Health Organization advises that smoking probably increases the risk of complications from the disease, French researchers last week said they’re testing whether nicotine could be used to treat the illness.

Dlamini-Zuma served as health minister in former President Nelson Mandela’s cabinet from 1994 until 1999. In that role she spearheaded legislation that eventually banned smoking in public places, prohibited all forms of tobacco advertising and promotion, and recommended penalties for transgressors. The Tobacco Products Control Amendment Act placed a limit on permissible levels of nicotine and tar.

Excise duties make up almost half of the retail price of a packet of 20 cigarettes in South Africa. At the same time, the nation has become one of the world’s biggest markets for illicit-cigarette sales and is losing about 7 billion rand ($386 million) a year through related tax evasion, according to a report published by the producer-funded Tobacco Institute in 2018.

The loss in tax revenue from the sale of tobacco and alcohol, which also attracts steep levies, have added to the worries of Dlamini-Zuma’s colleague, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni.

“I didn’t like the ban on alcohol and tobacco,” Mboweni told lawmakers on Thursday. “I lost the debate in cabinet and therefore I must toe the line. I lose a lot of revenue in the middle of pressure to spend.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.