Traders in uproar over Tobacco Bill

Hawkers say livelihoods will go up in smoke if loose cigarette sales banned

Tobacco Bill is gazetted, it will tighten regulations on loose cigarettes sales – a move hawkers and spaza shop owners say would jeopardise their informal businesses.
Tobacco Bill is gazetted, it will tighten regulations on loose cigarettes sales – a move hawkers and spaza shop owners say would jeopardise their informal businesses.
Image: Getty Images

Everyday since June, Mpumelelo Mbatyothi travels about 60km from Mdantsane to Beacon Bay to sell “loose cigarettes” to taxi drivers, commuters and shoppers near Spargs.

However, this type of hawking could soon be a thing of the past if the proposed Tobacco Bill is made law.Mbatyothi makes the trip because he found a gap in the market.

He felt this was better than selling loose cigarettes in Mdantsane, where he said the market was congested as supply exceeded demand.

He might not make a lot of extra money, but for him, the little that he makes helps him put food on the table.

However if the Tobacco Bill is gazetted, it will tighten regulations on loose cigarettes sales – a move hawkers and spaza shop owners say would jeopardise their informal businesses.

A loose cigarette can be sold for between 50c, R2, R2.50 and R3 depending on the brand.“I come here because taxi ranks in Mdantsane are saturated with people doing the same thing I do here. Everyday I sell only loose cigarettes because no one ever buys the entire sealed packet.

“They all buy two or three loose ones and would rather keep coming back for more. The little I make here puts food on the table.

“Ndingabethakala kakhulu uba ndingayeka [translated: I’d be severely disadvantaged if I were to stop what I do here],” Mbatyothi said.

He said the state should consult extensively before the bill is made law. “How are we supposed to make a living?” he asked.

“One cigarette is R2 or R2.50 depending on the brand and its easier to sell it like that. Customers would stop coming if we had to sell full packets because, it’s loose cigarettes that attract customers,” Southernwood tuckshop owner Sharif Abul said.

National department of health spokesperson, Popo Maja, said they had no intention of undermining economic interests in the small business sector. The bill is being proposed by the department of health.

“There is no economic development if people are sick or dead,” Maja said.

Organisations protecting informal business owners blasted the bill, saying it would put vulnerable shopowners out of business.

“This ban serves no discernible health objective. The ban on point of sale displays, for example, will make it impossible for our constituency to sell tobacco products legally,” African Cooperative for Hawkers and Informal Businesses (Achib) spokesperson, Rumbi Kangara, said.

Kangara said it would be difficult to monitor and enforce the law against smoking in public in townships because of the high population density.

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