South Africa’s War on Cigarette

Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) has been lobbying the government to lift the ban on cigarettes and tobacco sales even before the level 4 National lockdown regulations were announced. FITA is a non-profit organisation that was formed by South African based cigarette manufactures with the aim of promoting a fair-trading environment.

The South African President announced a national lock down on 26 March and one of the National lockdown regulations was a ban on cigarettes and tobacco. Saying, “they are not considered as essentials.”

As the government was preparing to open up some parts of the economy, using the risk-adjusted strategy. Ramaphosa said that the sale of cigarettes and tobacco will be allowed under level 4 National lockdown.

Days later, The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in a media briefing, that the ban will not be lifted under the level 4 regulations due to health concerns.

“When the President addressed the Nation on 23 April to announce level 4 regulations, he announced that the sales of cigarettes and tobacco will be allowed. South African smokers had a legitimate expectation that the ban on cigarettes and tobacco will be lifted, and manufactures and individual smokers were delighted by the announcement and began to plan accordingly” Said Sinenhlanhla Mnguni.

He further said, “The experience of these events in the manner they have transpired has placed emotional and mental stress on smokers. The continued burden of accepting, preparing, hoping, fighting and psychological relief of being told celebrates and tobacco will be sold and to have it overturned days later has created significant psychological distress for smokers.

He says the prohibition is stepping on the constitutional rights of FITA’s members to practise their trade, which includes the rights of 11 million smokers.

Due to the ban of selling cigarettes and tobacco over 2 000 objections have been received and a petition has been signed by over 490 000 smokers, FITA has served the government with court papers, and the non-profit organisation is challenging the decision that has been made to ban cigarettes due to the COVID-19 pandemic during level 4 of the lockdown.

The organisation wants the courts to allow and declare cigarettes and tobacco as essential goods, but there is currently no indication that the government will oppose the application.

FITA chairperson, Sinenhlanhla said, “there is in fact no basis to contend the prohibition of cigarettes and tobacco products is related to combatting the COVID-19 virus, and this ban is irrational.”

Mnguni accuses the government for not considering FITA’s submissions on this matter and that the government did not follow procedural fairness.

In a statement President Cyril Ramaphosa said, “After careful consideration and discussion, the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) reconsidered its position on cigarettes and tobacco. As a result, the regulation ratified by cabinet and announced by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on 29 April extend the prohibition.

The statement adds, “This was a collective and the public statements by both (myself the president) and the minister were done on behalf, and mandated by, the collective I lead. We continue to listen to the concerns of our people and are prepared to make adjustments that balance people’s concerns about the challenges they face with the need to save lives.”

On 04 May South African has recorded a total of 7 220 cases, 2 746 recoveries, 138 deaths and 4 336 active cases of the COVID-19.

By Sakhe Dolonga

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