In a reply to a Democratic Alliance (DA) oral question in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) this week, the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele said that to purchase a cigarette during the national lockdown is a crime and that there must be a kind of criminal record.
Minister Cele was responding to a question I asked on whether convictions for purchasing cigarettes during the lockdown will lead to a criminal record.
The ANC government’s stance on the matter is parochial and insensitive at best. In my question to the Minister I stressed the consequences of having a criminal record such as losing a job and therefore, a living and being prohibited from applying for other employment because of their dependence on nicotine.
The DA rejects the ANC government’s criminalising otherwise law-abiding citizens. At the very least, national government should decriminalise the use of tobacco products during the national lockdown, and fine those who do not follow the rules. Rising unemployment, a weakening economy, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, South Africans should not have to worry about the consequences of a criminal record for merely purchasing a cigarette.
President Cyril Ramaphosa also offered very little hope for cigarette smokers on Wednesday night when he said during a virtual imbizo interaction with the public that the ban on cigarettes will be lifted “someday”.
The lack of a clear timeline will certainly cause more anxiety for smokers who were already forced to immediately halt their use of tobacco products when the lockdown commenced in late March. While many South Africans have turned to the underground market, many more have simply waited for the ban to be lifted, fearful of the consequences should they engage in illegal purchases.
On top of this, we have still not been provided any substantial evidence from government of how prohibiting cigarettes to long-term smokers would suddenly make them more immune to Covid-19. On the contrary, the withdrawal symptoms for smokers could have a profound impact on their health before possibly getting infected with the coronavirus.
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