Anger over draft tobacco bill

Informal trader Cynthia Mahlatshane at her stand in Site C, displaying all sorts of cigarettes. But with the proposed Tobacco Bill, she could be jailed for advertising the packages.

The new draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill has sparked a massive outcry among informal traders and they are blaming the government for acting without proper consultation.

The traders fear the provisions in the proposed new bill will have a negative impact on the informal township trade.

The draft bill, which was published for comment in May, proposes banning the display of all tobacco products and cigarettes as well as the sale of single cigarettes.

They are calling for an exemption from the provisions of the bill for the informal trade. This exemption was in earlier versions of the bill, but has now been removed by the Department of Health without explanation.

According to one of the proposals, people who publicly sell loose cigarettes face a jail sentence of up to five years, something that has infuriated the informal traders.

This emerged when the South African Informal Traders’ Alliance (SAITA) visited the Khayelitsha taxi rank, on Wednesday August 1, to show the potential impact the proposals could have on informal township trade.

The proposed amendments also include banning the display of all tobacco products to promote public health and to align the South African tobacco control law with the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The bill also seeks to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to persons under the age of 18.

However, the proposals have triggered the ire of the informal industry. They claim that the pending regulations would cripple their business.

SAITA believes that it will severely prejudice more than 2.2 million informal traders, hawkers, spaza shop owners and home-based operators in the country.

The organisation also believes that the proposals will drive an illicit trade, at great cost to the government, while making cigarettes more accessible to the youth.

Rosheda Muller, SAITA national president, called on the Minister of Health to exempt informal traders from the provisions of the bill.

“The government knows how important the informal trade is to our economy. We are saying that the impact on the informal trade needs to be considered before the development of any new laws or regulations and where necessary, exemption should be granted,” she told journalists.

Ms Muller also accused the government of lack of transparency and failing to consult with informal traders properly.

She said one third of an average informal traders’ income comes from cigarette sales.

“There is a simple solution to this. We should be given a chance to raise our concerns and be granted exemption,” she said.

“Like before when the government published regulations banning the display of tobacco products, after we were called and raised our concerns, the regulations were never adopted.”

Informal trader, Cynthia Mahlatshane, said in her 19 years as an informal trader, it was the first time she faced something as “horrible” as the proposed Bill.

“I have been selling on the streets for the past 19 years, and I have never heard something insulting like this. I live on the sale of cigarettes. I have children who go to school with money from the cigarettes. I think there is a mistake in the bill,” she said.

Another trader, Zizipho Soko, said most of his income comes from cigarette sales. “How can I not display cigarettes? They are selling fast, especially here at the rank. I charge R2.50 per loose one. You can count for yourself how much I am making for a pack of 20. This Bill is ridiculous,” she said.

Chairperson of the United Khayelitsha Informal Traders’ Association (UKITA) and Western Cape SAITA secretary, Thozama Gwente, believes the ban would not work in the informal sector.

She said some of the proposals were dangerous.”The bill will also introduce plain packaging which will mean all packs of cigarettes will look the same. For those of our members that can hide their cigarettes, they will be placed at great personal risk. The bill is making it more dangerous for people when it is suppose to be protecting them,” she said.

A number of other forums have also aired their disapproval over the proposals.

The South African Spaza and Tuckshop Association (SASTA) reiterated the views of SAITA .

“This bill is completely inappropriate for spaza and tuckshop owners, whose interests we represent, promote and protect. We should either be exempted from it entirely or it should be scrapped.

“The display ban is not only impracticable for most businesses but for those that find solutions it is dangerous. For every tobacco transaction, the shop owner will need to search for cigarettes in a hiding place and all in packs that look identical. This will expose our members to a much-heightened risk of theft and attack.

“We do note that the bill now also proposes to prohibit the sale of single cigarettes. A huge majority of all our sales is in single cigarettes. Our customers cannot afford to buy full packs, especially at tax paid prices.

“If only full packs are available, our customers will only be able to afford to purchase illegal tobacco which is what they will do.

“This measure effectively bans our entire cigarette trade. Like the display ban, it will force all our members to either break the law or close up.”

The African Cooperative for Hawkers and Informal Business (ACHIB), a national body representing hawkers and informal businesses, said: “ A large number of tobacco products are sold by ACHIB’s constituency, sometimes one cigarette at a time. It is well known that illegally imported and counterfeit tobacco products have entered the market and constitute a growing market share. Excessive regulations have the unintended effect of forcing such people into criminality. The draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill, 2018, is one such a measure.”

The eKasi Entrepreneurship Movement, a non-profit company focused on developing township entrepreneurs, said: “The bill goes beyond what would be required to safeguard health. Instead of simply saying people must ask for permission to smoke from those who are nearby who may be negatively affected, the bill instead bans the display of tobacco products and bans the sale of toys and sweets resembling tobacco products, among a host of other problems. While large retailers can afford to have a back room where they hide their tobacco products and collect them when customers request it, small businesses have no such infrastructure. We fear that the application of this bill will be disproportionately detrimental to township and informal businesses that it may not comply with the right to equality in the Constitution.”