President Cyril Ramaphosa says that a number of factors will be considered before South Africa lifts the ban on the sale of tobacco products.
Responding in a written parliamentary question from the DA, Ramaphosa indicated that there is no clear date set for when the ban will be lifted.
“At this stage, it is difficult to determine when the ban on the sale of tobacco and related products will be lifted,” he said.
“This will depend on such factors as the progression of the disease in South Africa, the readiness of our health systems and evolving knowledge on the nature and impact of the virus itself.”
Ramaphosa added that prohibition on the sale of tobacco products was not taken lightly.
“The decision to promulgate the Disaster Management Regulations, including regulation 27, which prohibits the sale of tobacco products, e-cigarettes and related products was taken after careful consideration,” he said.
“Not only of the submissions received, but also the relevant medical literature focusing inter alia on the effects of smoking on public and individual health, especially in the face of a respiratory illness such as Covid-19.
“After my initial announcement on 23 April 2020, following representations that were made by various organisations and individuals and further consideration of relevant medical studies and advice, a different position was ultimately adopted by the National Coronavirus Command Council and thereafter by cabinet before the regulations were promulgated.”
The ban on the sale of cigarettes is expected to be heard by a full bench of the Pretoria High court this week.
The case is being brought against government by the air Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) which is arguing that 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,” said Fita chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni.
“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.”