Johannesburg - The Fair Trade Tobacco Associations (Fita) case seeking to challenge the ban on tobacco sales during the lockdown will be heard on Wednesday at the North Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.
The matter was due to be heard on Tuesday as legal parties from the state and Fita were meant to brief judges in the matter in chambers. All three judges who were due to hear the matter have agreed with the legal counsel that the matter will be heard on Wednesday. The judges will use Tuesday to read over the legal arguments advanced by the parties.
Fita is challenging the government's continued ban on the sale of tobacco products under levels 4 and 3 of the national lockdown.
The sale of tobacco has been banned since the beginning of the national lockdown at the end of March. When the country moved from level 4, President Cyril Ramaphosa had announced cigarettes would be sold. The decision was later reversed and announced by Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. She said the government had received 2 000 petitions calling for the ban of tobacco to continue under level 4.
Fita filed court papers immediately in May following the decision.
The ban was continued under level 3 with the government citing scientific reasons for the continued ban. Fita later amended its court action saying they were also challenging the continued ban of tobacco products under level 3.
In their court papers, Fita chairman Sinenhlanhla Mnguni argues Regulation 27 of the then level 4 and now level 3 was "self-evidently irrational" saying it ignored a significant number of people who have tried to have their views heard on the ban.
“The regulation is exacerbating the already trying circumstances of millions of South African citizens who are already emotionally fragile and causing increased stress for them," Mnguni argued.
Dlamini Zuma's legal counsel is expected to argue that the continued ban of tobacco during the Covid-19 pandemic was motivated by science and the medical literature highlighting the connection between smoking and contracting a severe form of Covid-19. The minister has argued in court papers that smokers who contact the virus could cause a strain on the country's healthcare system because they would need ventilators.
The government also faces another court case from tobacco giant British American Tobacco. BAT had last week filed papers at the Western Cape High Court seeking to have the ban of sales of tobacco lifted.