Durban - The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) is taking the government to court over its decision to ban the sale of cigarettes during the level 4 Covid-19 lockdown.
The decision to go to court was announced on Monday by the association’s chairperson, Sinenhlanhla Mnguni, who said the decision “was not arrived at easily”.
FITA is made up of six companies mainly based in Gauteng; the Gold Leaf Tobacco Corporation, Home of Cut Rag, Folha Manufactures, Best Tobacco Company, Afroberg Tobacco Manufacturing and Carnilinx. The association claims to be fighting for a free trading environment free of competitors harassment and unfair competition.
FITA's competitors, British American Tobacco of South Africa, had on Saturday sent a letter of demand to Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamni-Zuma urging her to reverse the decision to restrict the sale of tobacco products during the lockdown.
“We are relying on a number of legal principles in order to challenge this ban on the sale of cigarettes which we feel is not lawful in the sense that the legislation which governed the lockdown period does not permit for government to take such a step. Now obviously that would be left to the legal representatives to make out a case as far as this is concerned. We are merely exercising our constitutional right as law-abiding citizens, we respect the rule of law,” Mnguni said.
While FITA is going to court, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday used his weekly newsletter to the nation to rebut the assertion that Dlamini-Zuma acted like a de-facto Prime Minister and overruled him after initially telling the country that level 4 which kicked in on May 1, 2020.
He said there had been much public comment on government’s decision to extend the prohibition on the sale of tobacco products into level 4.
He added that it was expected that a decision like this one was bound to be controversial, but it is wrong to suggest that there are Ministers or a President doing and saying whatever they want on this matter.
"On 23 April, I announced that cigarette sales would be permitted during level 4. This was based on the view of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), and which was contained in the draft framework that was published for consultation. After careful consideration and discussion, the NCCC reconsidered its position on tobacco.
"As a result, the regulations rati(fi)ed by Cabinet and announced by Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on 29 April extended the prohibition. This was a collective decision and the public statements by both myself and the Minister were done on behalf of, and mandated by, the collective I lead,” he said.
He stressed that every regulation the government has put in place has been carefully considered.
With the debate stirs, several civil society organisations have welcomed the government’s decision to uphold the ban on tobacco sales, agreeing that tobacco use can worsen the progression of Covid-19.
In a joint statement, the organisations which include the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa said banning tobacco sales will reduce tobacco consumption, thereby reducing the burden of severe cases of Covid-19 on the health system.
“This decision by the government will help to reduce the impact of the pandemic by reducing the severity of disease in smokers who contract Covid-19. This decision will also reduce the demand on the health system by reducing the number of severe cases of Covid-19 that it has to treat,” they said in the joint statement.