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Tobacco sales debate set for court

Published May 30, 2020


Pretoria - The battle to allow the sale of cigarettes in level 3 of lockdown intensified with the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) set to meet government in court on June 9 and 10.

Meanwhile, British American Tobacco South Africa (Batsa) - which had also earlier threatened court action - launched a broadside against the decision of the National Coronavirus Command Council to continue with the ban, saying government had betrayed its trust.

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In a statement on Friday, Batsa said it was “commencing urgent legal proceedings to challenge the government’s decision to extend the ban on tobacco sales during level 3”.

Batsa said it was supported in this action by Japan Tobacco International (JTI), as well as others including farmers, retailers and consumers.

In the statement, Batsa said it had withdrawn its initial legal challenge in level 4 after being led to believe that government would engage with it directly and allow it to make a case for lifting the ban in level 3.

However, efforts to engage were ignored, and on Thursday, Minister of Cooperative Governance, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma confirmed the ban would remain.

The Gauteng High Court Pretoria yesterday directed the Fita application would be heard before a full bench (three judges), with the matter set down for Tuesday and Wednesday the week after next.

A Facebook group which calls itself Smokers Unite One - which consists of 289 000 members - yesterday issued an affidavit with the court in which they are asking permission to join Fita’s proceedings.

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Batsa said the government decided to maintain the ban on tobacco products under the guise of limiting the spread of Covid-19 while allowing all other previously banned consumer products to go back on sale.

According to a statement issued, Batsa said it has long argued that the banning of a legal product will have dire consequences - driving millions of smokers to the illicit market, robbing the government of much-needed excise tax contributions, undercutting tobacco control regulations, encouraging criminal behaviour and threatening thousands of jobs.

The Treasury is currently losing R35m of vitally required revenue in excise taxes every day that the ban on cigarette sales in South Africa continues.

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This comes at a time during which the illicit tobacco trade is flourishing, with cigarettes costing at least three times the usual price.

Dlamini Zuma this week filed papers in opposing Fita’s constitutional challenge in which she said the banning of tobacco is a matter of protecting lives. She said South Africa has a culture of “rolling” and “sharing” tobacco products, which poses the risk of cross-infection of the Covid-19 virus.

She points to studies which show the severity of Covid-19 outcomes is greater in smokers than non-smokers.

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Annemarie Beets of Smokers Unite One said in their bid to join Fita’s application that it is representing the rights of the general smoking population in the country who are deemed voiceless.

Beets said the ban must be lifted as it infringed on the rights of the about 11million smoking South Africans.

Pretoria News Weekend

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