Police minister Bheki Cele in Cape Town. Picture: ROGER SEDRES / GALLO IMAGES
Police minister Bheki Cele in Cape Town. Picture: ROGER SEDRES / GALLO IMAGES

The longer the government prevaricates over its booze and smokes ban, the worse it will be: for the fiscus, the economy, the national mood, and even South Africans’ wellbeing.

As a University of Cape Town study has made clear, the ban on cigarette sales has completely failed — nearly 90% of smokers are still getting their fix, at hugely inflated prices. Not only does the ban make no economic sense, say the authors — the fiscus is losing about R35m a day in tax revenues from tobacco sales — it is also "feeding an illicit market that will be increasingly difficult to eradicate". That’s a wholly unnecessary long-term headache the government is creating for itself. And it’s not just illicit, but dangerous too: what is sold on the black market passes through no quality checks.

The ban on alcohol sales has also rippled through myriad industries. Glass manufacturers cannot produce the bottles for your beer, wine or craft gin — but they can’t shutter their factories and furnaces either. Expect a wave of retrenchments in SA’s already fragile manufacturing sector, not to mention the industries explicitly attached to the sale of liquor: logistics firms, bottle stores, wine merchants, bars.

The alcohol ban is one of the clearest indicators that the state has only a passing grasp of the complex and interconnected nature of an open free-market economy. It toys with that at its peril.