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UNDER THREAT: Hawkers are concerned about the Tobacco Bill

Tobacco Bill threatens informal traders livelihoods

Hawkers have accused government of not consulting them over the recent Tobacco Bill passed in parliament.

The anti-tobacco bill, which among others seeks to repeal and re-enact the Control of Smoking Act to align it with the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco, prohibits the trading of tobacco products without a licence.

It is estimated that there are around 20, 000 hawkers country-wide who support in excess of 100, 000 people through their various businesses.

In a survey conducted by Briggs and Associates, a local research firm, informal traders reasoned that cigarette sales accounted for roughly 71 percent of their income.

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In the survey, hawkers complained of only learning about the bill, which will become law when President Mokgweetsi Masisi puts his signature to it, through the media and were never sought out by govt.

This certainly rings true for 30-year-old Lebonye Mokoba.

The street vendor, who sells her wares outside the Chinese shops along Blue Jacket Street in Francistown, had no idea of the new requirements until Voice Money asked her about them.

She was non-too impressed when she found out!

“Already our businesses are crippled because of Covid-19, now this new law of licences! How are we going to survive? In my business, cigarettes are the ones giving me a better profit so without them I am as good as dead,” lamented Mokoba on Tuesday, breaking off the interview to sell a ciggie.

Under the Bill, this common practice, which plays out up-and-down the land over a hundred times a day, will technically be no more as the Bill outlaws the sale of single cigarettes. Instead, smokers will have to fork out for a pack of 20 to soothe their nicotine cravings.

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Sosizane Fanile, an informal trader in Gaborone, believes this spells doom for her business.

“If it is going to be like that it means this is just a win for big retailers only because we can’t afford to sell boxes. It means we will not be able to take care of our families like we have been doing because cigarettes are the mainstay of our businesses,” fumed Fanile, who grimly predicted her trade would collapse very soon.

WORRIED: Fanile

The survey found this fear to be shared by almost all hawkers.

“People who buy cigarettes also buy other things, it is not like they buy cigarettes only, the sales will obviously drop,” the report quoted one survey participant, who believes cigarettes are the major draw for customers.

“Due to the level of support provided to family, the loss of sales to customers buying single cigarettes will decimate this trade sector. The overwhelming responses are negative, and hawkers believe this will possibly close their businesses,” continues the damning report.

The survey also warned that banning the sale of single cigarettes could actually have the opposite effect in the fight against smoking.

“If cigarettes are only sold in packs of 20 or more, consumers will be forced to buy from formal retailers. This will mean they are purchasing for a cheaper unit price,” the company said, reasoning that as it is cheaper it will inevitably lead to more people smoking.

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There is also uncertainty surrounding the acquisition of the relevant trading licence, how it will be allocated as well as the associated costs.

Furthermore, Briggs and Associates believe the country could soon experience a huge rise in illicit tobacco trading.

It is believed that as the sale of cigarettes is curtailed, people will look for new ways to get cigarettes, thus opening floodgates for more illicit tobacco getting into the country.

“Unlawful sale of cigarettes will continue, but it will be more surreptitious. Cost of enforcement for the government will be increased, with little control of consumption,’” the research firm noted.

Moreover, it is feared the new legislation will push more people into unemployment as vendors give up on their businesses due to lack of profits.

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