During a Press Conference held on Tuesday 18th October 2022, the President of the Sierra Leone Cigarette Sellers Association, Vandi Lansana, called on President Bio not to sign the newly enacted 2022 Tobacco and Nicotine Act which bans public smoking and addresses the control and regulation of the production, manufacturing, importation, packaging and labeling, advertising, promotion and sponsorship, sale and use of tobacco, tobacco products, and other nicotine products.
It aims at promoting the improvement of public health by limiting the health harms caused by the use of, and exposure to tobacco including nicotine, by reducing demand for tobacco and nicotine products.
Vandi Lansana intimated to the media that have gone through the Act, they are of the view that it is harsh and unfriendly, and has the tendency to destroy businesses dealing in Tobacco products and even the industry adding that the industry and trade play key roles in the country’s economy.
He furthered that whilst importing Tobacco products they pay duties and taxes on them, which, according to him are vital sources of revenue for the Government.
Vandi added that as an association, they are actively involved in the buying and selling of cigarette products and have regular cigarette importers from whom they buy. He continued that should the Act become law those importers will be put out of business and more youths will be put out of employment not to talk of the negative economic implications of such on the country’s economy.
He disclosed that there are over 29,000 members, some retailers, whilst others are wholesalers.
Among some of the clauses in the Act, Lansana picked out a clause that says that those who trade in tobacco should not display the products for sale. That, he said, is preposterous as it means that after paying taxes to NRA and duties at the quay, they should hide their goods.
He stressed that no one will hide the goods that he has paid for to the Government maintaining that their operations are not illegal like dealing in marijuana or Kush, but rather legitimate.
Vandi said that, unlike marijuana and Kush, tobacco does not make users high as it is not an illicit drug maintaining that in an open market economy, people display their wares for people to buy, especially as the products are not illegal across the globe.
Mr. Lansana furthered that there are importers who have signed contracts with manufacturers of cigarette products, and any action to stop the sale of the products will render them in a precarious position in terms of fulfilling their obligations.
Vandi Lansana further disclosed that another part of the Act states that tobacco advertisements should be banned. He maintained that in a competitive business environment, one has to advertise his goods to make sales otherwise one’s business is doomed.
He further opined that to ensure that revenue is generated from products that is the reason why they go through customs, and if the products are stopped being imported, smuggling will be the order of the day, especially as many residents in the country smoke cigarettes.
He recalled the days when cigarettes were smuggled from Liberia to the country, but after engagement with the Association, actions were taken by their membership to contain the illegal trade across the border.
Vandi Lansana maintained that no engagement was done with them on the proposed Act, but came to know of it after the said Bill was passed and is now with the President to give his assent. He stressed that they are not against regulating tobacco in the country, but the introduction of the provisions of the said Act will destroy the industry and encourage smuggling.
He concluded by calling on President Bio to reconsider the provisions in that Act and not sign it into law, to save their businesses and maintain the revenue generated from the sales of this product.
Several other speakers like Glorious Momodu, Program Officer, Sierra Leone Traders Union, Abubakrr Mohamed, a student getting his living from the sale of cigarettes, which he has used to pay his fees in school and has now taken his WASSCE, and also taking care of his mother and siblings living in the village, raised similar concerns and jointly called on the intervention of President Bio to salvage the situation.
Present at the meeting were members of the Association, other stakeholders, and the Press.