All too many of the issues raised by SA’s Covid tobacco sales ban reflect poorly on the government’s ability to deal with illegality, smuggling and crime. But the five-month ban tells us other things about state capacity too. Negative signals have been sent on tax compliance, revenue collection, border security, policy formulation (or lack of it) and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the minimal consequences for criminality.

By September the SA Revenue Service (Sars) had handed over just three cases involving cigarette and alcohol smuggling to the police for further investigation, despite having intercepted goods valued at more than R100m during the bans...

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