The Black Tobacco Farmers’ Association has called on Sars to do more to tackle the illicit tobacco trade which it says is directly threatening the livelihoods of hundreds of emerging farmers across the country.

The association’s comments follow a presentation by Sars to parliament’s finance committee earlier this week. Sars officials acknowledged that the tax authority needed to do more to deal with the illicit tobacco trade.

The Tobacco Institute of SA estimates that the fiscus is losing more than R10bn annually in unpaid excise duties on cigarettes.

“It’s encouraging that Sars officials concede that they need to ‘up their game’, as they say. But they particularly need to ‘up their game’ in dealing with those who produce illicit tobacco rather than (introducing) more and more punitive and expensive measures for those — like us — who do things by the book,” the association’s chair Shadrack Sibisi said in a statement.

“As people who work within a tight regulatory framework, and respect it, black tobacco farmers are consistently undermined by the illicit tobacco trade. It threatens our very existence; every illicit tobacco product that is produced and sold takes away our own income — as well as depriving Sars of revenue. As a result, farmers lose, Sars loses, and the fiscus suffers,” Sibisi said.

He said Sars seemed to focus on the regulation of the legal market rather than clamping down on illicit producers and traders.