Tobacco traders appeal for the President's mercy

BG reporter
Friday, 20 August 2021
Tobacco traders appeal for the President's mercy

The domestic tobacco sector which has been hard done by the passing of the controversial Tobacco Control Bill is pinning its last hopes on the President of the country, who is the ultimate person to sign the Bill into law.

The Bill, despite much criticism from all and sundry, has gone through parliament. Players in the multi-million Pula sector, have complained that the passing of the bill will have sweeping socio-economic impact which will bring the sector to a near collapse. The sector has maintained the ministry of health has not consulted them. "As far as we are aware, the proposed Tobacco Control Bill went through the Third Reading earlier this week. Our understanding is that this proposed Bill will still need Presidential Assent. Our position remains the same, extreme regulation is not a solution, it only brings about unintended consequence like give rise to unregulated counterfeits and exacerbates illicit trade in tobacco products.

We still request for an impartial and independent Regulatory Impact Assessment Study (RIA) as this is the ONLY solution to balanced regulations – this is Batswana’s central principle of Therisanyo. At this point, we remain hopeful that we will be heard and as such, we will continue to engage on this proposed Bill accordingly,” stated Mdu Lokotfwako, British American Tobacco Botswana (BAT)'s Head: Legal & External Affairs.

BAT Botswana is the biggest tobacco company in the country, selling over 300 million sticks annually and contributing millions of Pula in taxes to government of Botswana. The company has maintained that, the Bill, in its current form will put many informal traders on the edge due to proposed tough trading requirements for those who trade in tobacco.

Majority of hawkers in Botswana sell tobacco and the product is regarded as the biggest profit generator for many of them. The BAT Botswana spokesperson’s argument comes amidst a new snap survey conducted on the impact of the proposed legislation on hawkers in the Greater Gaborone. Ahead of the recent passing of the Bill.

Briggs and Associates conducted the survey on 114 hawkers. The sample was drawn from a base of more than 1800 hawkers within the greater Gaborone area. “The objective of the survey was to determine the transparency of the proposed amendments, communication and consultation with traders affected, impact that the legislation would in terms of business sustainability, affect on socio economic factors and perception of the proposed legislation,” said Briggs and Associates.

The study was limited to hawkers and did not include many other traders such as tuck-shops. The random selection made provision for a representation of traders that have operated for different periods from a minimum of a year to 26 years.
According to insights from the survey, hawkers were in agreement that, with the proposed law, there is too much uncertainty about acquiring a license, allocation (of licenses), costs, among others. Hawkers also have concerns over the Tobacco Control bill as it will put pressure on selling of tobacco, which is one of their major drawcards for casual shoppers.

The proposed law calls for cigarettes to be sold in a twenty cigarettes packet. “Due to the level of support provided by family, the loss of sales to customers buying single cigarettes will decimate this sector,” noted the survey.
"I plea with the government not to sell cigarettes in packages because 90% of us rely on selling one on one." The survey concluded that, some of the unintended consequences of the proposed Tobacco Control Bill will result on illicit trade, as sale of cigarettes will be curtailed.

“People will look for new ways to get hold of cigarettes. This will open floodgates for even more illicit tobacco coming into the country. Unlawful sale of cigarettes will increase, but it will be more surreptitious,” noted the survey, adding cost of enforcement on the side of government will also go up.

As government will enforce sale of 20 cigarettes packs only, there will be relative price reduction. “Customers will be forced to buy from formal traders. This will mean they are purchasing for a cheaper unit price. This will mean that it will be cheaper to smoke, and so inevitably people will smoke more,” said the survey.

As a result of the proposed Tobacco Control Bill, there will be more unemployment once the bill is signed into law by the President. “As hawkers are pushed into a situation where they are not making profit, they will be forced into unemployment.
Many hawkers are the sole supporters of extended families and additional loss of income will have severe economic and social repercussions for themselves, their families and society in a broader context."

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