Four people were killed in a two-car collision on the N2 highway in KwaZulu-Natal on Monday morning, with two of the occupants of one car found to be transporting large quantities of dagga and illegal cigarettes.
According to one of the province's police spokespersons, captain Nqobile Gwala, the accident took place at 8.30am along the highway in Newark, just south of Tugela Bridge.
Gwala said that one of the vehicles involved in the collision was transporting the contraband, which "caught fire", resulting in the occupants being burned to death.
“The estimated street value of the dagga and cigarettes is R500,000. A case of culpable homicide is being investigated by Newark SAPS,” she said.
The South African government banned the sale of tobacco in late March, at the start of the country's Covid-19 lockdown. It justified the ban on the basis of advice received from the World Health Organisation (WHO) .
The global health body said that although research was still being conducted, there was reason to believe that smokers would be more adversely affected by Covid-19 than non-smokers. This, according to government, could place an additional burden on the country's poorly managed and inadequate health facilities.
But the ban has been extensively criticised for contributing to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs along the value chain, and for strengthening the trade in illicit cigarettes, which are not taxed, thereby costing the fiscus billions in tax revenue.
The ban has further received additional opposition after a recent study by researchers at the University of Cape Town found that 90% of smokers had bought illegal cigarettes during the extensive lockdown and ban.
The study: "Lighting up the illicit market: Smokers' responses to the cigarette sales ban in South Africa" was based on a survey of 16,000 participants.
According to researchers: "Our findings suggest that the ban on cigarettes is failing on what it was supposed to do."
“While one should not exaggerate the revenue potential of excise taxes on tobacco products, since it contributes only 1% of total government revenue, it does not make economic sense to not collect this revenue.
"The current sales ban is feeding an illicit market that will be increasingly difficult to eradicate when the lockdown and the Covid-19 crisis is over. It was an error to continue with the cigarette sales ban into Level 4 lockdown,” added the researchers.
– African News Agency