Lockdown cigarette ban violates social distancing

Did the lockdown cigarette ban prevent the sharing of cigarettes, or force people who never shared before, to do so now?

Under lockdown level 4, a box of cigarettes cost over R100 (or R10 a loose cigarette) with workers earning the same pre-COVID-19 wages. If a worker smoked 10 cigarettes a day at work out of a packet of cigarettes, the loose ones would cost them R100 per day, excluding the cigarettes they would normally smoke at home.

On a lockdown cigarettes petition, workers who smoked from their packet, now have to share smoking and cigarette costs, because of lockdown cigarette prices. Two or more colleagues, who never shared cigarettes before, do so now. Under level 3, as cigarettes more difficult to find, the increased cost (up to R20 based on Free Market Foundation comments), could increase sharing to 4 or more colleagues per cigarette, especially since FITA lost their case against NDZ.

Which employer will report skilled and experienced staff to the police for ban violation, with limited productivity under lockdown levels, to provide an income for all in the business?

Did the ban reduce demand and supply?

The government may reduce infections through the lockdown, but the cigarette ban under the lockdown regulations thoroughly spreads the pandemic. The ban doesn’t prevent contagion, because it creates a contagion means which never existed before. In contrast, the HSRC surveyed 19,000 people in April, during level 5, and used that as proof that cigarette demand and supply diminished during level 4 lockdown since 1 May.

How does this contradict what was physically witnessed? There were no migrations in search of cigarettes (consumer “boots on the ground”) in Mitchells Plain during April. Cigarettes were still available at slightly increased prices. Loose cigarettes increased from R1 to R3 and R5, and packets increased from at least R20 and at most R40, to R30 and R50.

Since 1 May, daily migrations started to find cigarettes, on foot or by car. The price of loose cigarettes increased to R7 and R10 each, and packets increased to R140 and R160. Information gathered during April and superimposed onto May’s conditions, distorts the reflection of reality. The University of Cape Town’s survey was accurate and found that most smokers bought cigarettes during the cigarette ban.

The socio-economic impact

Besides non-sharing smokers now sharing, cigarette sharing was common among teenagers and the unemployed, but many escalated to 4 friends or more per cigarette. This could increase further during level 3. Not only has the ban resulted in the violation of social distancing through the creation of a need to share nicotine, but they have also economically sabotaged the most vulnerable communities.

Many are using their SASSA pensions, disability money, etc. to pay R8 to R10 for loose cigarettes, and nearly 10 times the original price of a packet of cigarettes. The daily cost per cigarette could lead to increased malnutrition among grant recipients. Buying cigarettes at inflated prices reduce the amount of money that can be used on food.

Government is not feeding the poor, but taking food out of their mouths through the cigarette ban. An increase in SASSA grant which is smaller in comparison to the increased price of cigarettes during 30 days, is disproportionate. After deductions for cigarettes, less money is available for food than there was before receiving the SASSA increase.

Who exactly does the ban target?

Despite the apparent target of the ban being cigarette manufacturers and retailers, the impacted targets of the NDZ cigarette ban are people of colour, the working and lower-middle class, and the poor. The impacted are not a rich or health-conscious middle class (average or upper). A 4 July 2018 study of South African smokers, headed Neighbourhood deprivation, smoking, and race in South Africa: A cross-sectional analysis states:

‘”Coloured men have a much higher smoking prevalence than other racial groups: 47.0% compared to 28.5% among Black men, 18.0% among White men, and 36.8% among Asian/Indian men. Similarly, Coloured women have the highest smoking prevalence with 34.4%, followed by 12.9% among White women, 7.5% among Asian/Indian women, and 3.3% among Black women”

“Nonetheless, this measure captures important aspects of deprivation and was based on a validated index, which has been used by South African policymakers to profile poverty and deprivation across the country.”‘

With 47% Coloured men, 36.8% Indian/Asian men, 34.4% Coloured women, 28.5% Black men, 18% White men, 12.9% White women, 7.5% Indian/Asian women, and 3.3% Black women; Can we wait until level 2 (with a possible u-turn yet again) or level 1 (with another possible u-turn yet again) to lift the ban?

The ban questions more answers

How many were forced to share cigarettes through the ban, and spread a virus from one to four or more people at a time, who then split up and shared another cigarette with four other people each, to spread it among sixteen people, and then 64, and then 256, etc.? How many hospitalised individuals were smokers forced to share cigarettes because of the ban?

The lockdown without a cigarette ban would have each smoker keep his or her infection (or remain infection-free) by smoking their own cigarettes. Face masks, social distancing, hand washing and sanitising, and surface cleaning would prevent the viral spread. The lockdown with a cigarette ban violates social distancing and ensures the sharing of saliva droplets on cigarette filters, among people who never shared cigarettes before.

This is in addition to the poor and teenagers who already shared cigarettes but now share one among even more to cover the cost. It also resulted in the use of a huge chunk of wages and SASSA grants spent on cigarettes that could have been used on food, electricity, rates, etc.. Was it an attack on the industry, or a socio-economic assault on the least privileged and most vulnerable?

Author: Brent Hill

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