Praise for Dlamini Zuma's stance on continued tobacco ban
Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s decision to reverse President Cyril Ramaphosa’s intention to unban the sale of cigarettes has been hailed as the correct move in the country’s efforts to fight Covid-19 – despite criticism from certain sectors of society.
Last week, Ramaphosa announced that the sale of cigarettes would be permitted when the country moves into Level 4 of the lockdown on Friday, but on Wednesday night Dlamini Zuma threw a curveball at smokers when she announced that the ban on the sale of cigarettes would still be in place during Level 4, stating that the continuation of the ban was health-related.
“We took into consideration and debated the matter and decided that we must continue as we are when it comes to cigarettes and tobacco products and we shouldn’t open up the sale,” said Dlamini Zuma.
She told the country cigarettes had an adverse effect on human lungs and that the manner in which tobacco was shared did not allow for social distancing and encouraged the spread of the virus.
After Ramaphosa announced the lifting of the ban on cigarettes, the ANC Women's League said cigarettes were not essential goods but posed a danger to human beings and that the lifting of the ban undermined efforts to contain the rapid spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Political analyst Mighti Jamie said those advocating for the sale of cigarettes were actually seeking to add fuel to the fire as smoking compromised immune systems and left smokers susceptible to the virus.
He said it was strange that there were those who were critical of Dlamini Zuma, who had listened to experts on measures to take to prevent the spread of the virus.
Jamie said that Ramaphosa’s initial decision, on 23 April, to lift the ban on cigarettes may have been as a result of pressure from big business on the National Command Council and the cabinet to reopen the economy.
“You can tell that some of this is coming from management consultants, it’s coming from people who are keen to get back into business.
“But we are in the middle of a global pandemic which can definitely compromise lives, and I think having a government that is flexible at times like this is important,” Jamie said.
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said Ramaphosa’s decision to unban the sale of cigarettes had been more as a result of lobbying from people than pressure from business figures wanting to get back into the swing of business.
“There were just too many people who were complaining about this thing and he had to do something. There was no use being stubborn when people were saying it does not harm them and they would smoke anyway despite the ban,” Mathekga said.
He said the ban on cigarettes would just fuel the sale of illicit cigarettes on the black market.
Dlamini Zuma’s announcement came as the National Council Against Smoking, South African Medical Research Council (Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit), the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) and the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa launched a campaign called “Protect our next” to encourage smokers to stop smoking and to increase awareness of and support for South Africa’s Control of Tobacco and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill.
Professor Pamela Naidoo, of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, said the government should be applauded for putting the nation’s health first in the response to Covid-19.
“Health supercedes commercial interests. While the right of the individual is important, when we are facing a crisis of this scale that poses a danger to society, the rights of the collective to health must take precedence.
"We encourage smokers to use this time to stop smoking to improve their health, and to reduce the likelihood of a severe illness should they contract Covid-19.”
Public Health Policy and Development Consultant Zanele Mthembu said the tobacco sales ban has the support of many citizens at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic due to major health concerns.