FMF CEO Statement: From which planet our lockdown tobacco law?

FMF CEO Statement
24 May 2020

Police Minister Bheki Cele's latest law is that smokers must face East. No one can argue with his science-based logic. If smokers face the same way, they do not blow smoke at each other and non-smokers will know on which side to pass.

The problem is that he chose East. This is a fatal mistake because the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, so that facing either way does not entail equal application as required by the Constitution. It impacts people who do not impersonate sun flowers arbitrarily. Health science experts agree that smoking in a Southerly direction is best because this is South Africa.

Jokes aside, what Cele has done in the real world is no less ludicrous. He decided that smoking with receipts is healthier than smoking without them. He did not say whether he had a receipt for whatever his advisors were smoking.

Unwittingly, he produced proof of life elsewhere. On my planet small and informal traders do not issue cash register receipts, yet he requires all consumers to have them. On my planet smokers dispose supermarket receipts in recycle bins. On my planet laws are made by law-makers, not ministers on the fly. On my planet no one told Coronaviruses to discriminate against cigarettes without receipts. On my planet no thinks that receipts are vaccines.

Cele whimsically decreed that people with receipts may smoke. No, that is not a joke or fake news, and, no, it was not another planet. It really happened. Here.

Since most till slips do not list items, my advice to smokers is to wave any old receipt at an obnoxious cop demanding a receipt by either definition: bribe or worthless paper. If police want cigarettes listed, all smokers need is one old receipt. It will suffice of for limitless cigarettes. If you have a few receipts, sell them in the new government sponsored illicit receipt market.

Loony aspects of lockdown drive harmless people into the hands of criminals, who, gleefully supported by the government, prosper whilst normal lives are ruined. The government is carpet bombing its own country. By the time the tobacco ban is lifted, it might have cost the economy R450 billion – enough to replace all shacks with houses, or give all unemployed people informal jobs.

Fuelling the rage of eleven million victimised smokers, and millions more subjected to their rage, Cele briefed media thus: "It is not illegal to smoke cigarettes in your house", he said, "only … when you fail to show us when and where you got the cigarettes." Seriously, that is what he said. His decree is neither to combat illicit trade, which this move promotes, nor to combat infection. It supposedly establishes when cigarettes were bought. Since cigarettes do not have serial numbers, they cannot be linked to even itemised receipts.

Policymaking ought to be a carefully considered process, based on scientific evidence, cost-benefit analysis, and public participation. For such measures to be constitutional, there must be a rational connection between cigarette receipts and COVID-19 transmission. On my planet, there is no such evidence.

If Cele has secret evidence, he owes it to the world where, in virtually all countries, tobacco sales are lawful. He should tell Dr Anthony Fauci and the World Health Organisation (WHO) why demanding receipts does not induce such life-threatening laughter that patients need respirators. Maybe his advisors found out how to get viruses to bypass receipt-holders.

More concerning than policymaking on the fly is that the economy is in tatters yet the Finance Minister and the Revenue Service are silent about their tobacco revenues going up in smoke whilst puritan prohibitionists promote illicit trade.

Instead of the SA Police Service (SAPS) being a service distributing advice, masks, sanitizer and gloves, it is back to being a police "force" as under apartheid. Like its precursor, it must now enforce ludicrous laws. Instead of protecting harmless people, it criminalises them.

While citizens confront mortality, unemployment, bankruptcy, depression and anxiety, it is beyond dystopian to harass them for proof of cigarette purchase. The ban and the 'till slip' law are devoid of science, precedent or common sense. The virus will be with us for months during which rules should be based on facts, data, sanity and compassion.

The government says smoking is addictive. If true, humanity and decency call for treatment and support, not criminalisation and oppression.

The government should heed the call to discontinue ill-conceived if not unlawful measures. Instead of the rule of law, we have the law of unintended consequences. South Africans are forgiving people who want responsible and responsive government, not suspension of all constitutionally protected rights and liberties.

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