File picture: Pixabay
File picture: Pixabay

Government backtracks on tweet about alcohol, cigarette ban

By Zintle Mahlati Time of article published Jul 22, 2020

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Johannesburg - The government has backtracked on an earlier tweet which said alcohol and tobacco would not be permitted for sale until the end of the lockdown period.

The tweet had caused concerns about government’s confusing messaging as restaurants picketed to protest the restrictions placed on their business on Wednesday.

They are calling on government to allow the sale of alcohol under strict conditions, in a bid to preserve jobs and livelihoods.

Shortly after 5pm, the @GovernmentZA Twitter account retracted the tweet and apologised for the confusion.

It said: “This account posted a tweet earlier today which said that the ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes would remain in place throughout the lockdown period. This is incorrect. The sale of alcohol and tobacco products is prohibited under the current Level 3 regulations.

“This decision may be reviewed at any time by the relevant structures should the conditions which necessitated it change. We regret any confusion the tweet has caused”.

The ban on alcohol sales was re-introduced last week following an address by President Cyril Ramaphosa. He said alcohol-related trauma cases had sharply increased causing the country’s hospitals to struggle to treat Covid-19 related cases.

Alcohol sales had been unbanned on June 1, with sales only permitted from Monday to Thursday, between 9am and 5pm. Consumption of alcohol was only strictly permitted at home.

Tobacco related products were banned in March when the lockdown began. The government recently won a court case brought by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association which sought to challenge the government’s decision to ban the sale of tobacco products.

The matter is still before the courts as Fita has applied for leave to appeal the ruling.

Government has cited health related risks for its decision to implement the ban.

The tweet sent out on Wednesday afternoon received lots of traction on Twitter, with many users complaining about the incoherent government messaging.

In May, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu was quoted as saying that the tobacco ban would not continue beyond level two of the national lockdown.

“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,” Mthembu told EWN in May.

Fita called on government to clarify its stance after the tweet went viral on Wednesday.

“This statement contradicts government’s previous position on this issue, with President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister Jackson Mthembu both stating on a number of occasions publicly that it was only a matter of time before the ban on the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products was lifted," the organisation said on Wednesday.

"The statement issued today by government create the impression that government has no intention of lifting the ban on the sale of cigarettes under any level during the lockdown period. That position, of course, will have severe consequences for the fiscus, the industry as a whole, and all those who make a living from the industry."

Meanwhile, the restaurant industry has complained about the alcohol sales ban stating that it has heavily affected its survival.

The industry wants to be allowed to serve alcohol along with meals. Restaurants owners across the country took the streets in protest on Wednesday.

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