South Africa’s cigarette ban heads to court next week

Chairperson of the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita), Sinenhlanhla Mnguni, says that a full bench of the Pretoria High court is set to hear an application on the legality of regulations which ban the sale of tobacco products in South Africa.

Speaking in an interview with 702, Mnguni said that Fita received an answering affidavit from government on 4 June with the case now set to be heard on 9 and 10 June.

He added that the core issue of the case revolves around whether the banning of the sale of cigarettes is rational.

While government is arguing that smoking could lead to an increase in coronavirus cases and even death, Mnguni said that this is not an issue that is limited to cigarettes.

“One of the first issues that we find difficult with the government’s stance is the arbitrary nature in which these regulations are implemented.

“If we go into the depths of the legal argument it is quite baffling as they state in their own papers, and even in some of the medical reports that they rely on, that there is no link between smoking and Covid-19.

“We accept that there is harm that is suffered by one’s lungs especially if they are a long-term smoker, but that cannot be undone by a cessation of six weeks.”

“There are conflicting medical reports – as stated by the responses and our own experts – as studies have shown that there is no casual link between Covid-19 and smoking and certain countries are now experimenting at whether nicotine can be used as a solution. But again there is nothing conclusive.”

Mnguni said that during the lockdown there has been the deprivation of a number of personal rights and freedoms, and that the onus is on the government to show that these measures are justified.

Tobacco will be sold again

In an interview at the end of May, Ramaphosa emphasised that the country will not remain at level 3 restrictions on a permanent basis – noting that government will also relax the restrictions around the sale of tobacco.

“We are going to migrate to another level. Those who are hankering for tobacco must know that it is only a matter of time before their hankering is assuaged or addressed.”

Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu has further noted that the sale of cigarettes will be allowed under the country’s level 2 lockdown restrictions.

“The ban on cigarettes, it’s just at this level we are in. We don’t know how many weeks we will be at this level. I can assure you after we’ve been out of level 3, I don’t see the ban on the sale of cigarettes continuing,” he said.

The government’s decision to continue its prohibition on the sale of tobacco products is set to be heard in court over the coming weeks.

The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) said it is currently finalising its supplementary court papers which it plans to serve on government on Friday (29 May). British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA) said on Friday that it will also recommence with urgent legal proceedings to challenge the ban.

Read: Ramaphosa signs new crime bill into law – what you need to know

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South Africa’s cigarette ban heads to court next week