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Fita determined to go ahead with fight against tobacco ban

By Sameer Naik Time of article published Jul 4, 2020

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Johannesburg – The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) hasn't given up on its fight to have the ban on the sale of cigarettes lifted.

It launched an appeal yesterday after its attempt to get the cigarette ban overturned was turned down by the North Gauteng High Court last Friday.

“We will keep the public updated on any further developments in relation to this matter,” said Fita chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni.

The decision to keep the ban in place has stubbed out the hopes that many smokers had of getting their hands on tobacco products sooner rather than later.

British American Tobacco was also dealt a blow to their legal efforts last month after their case was postponed until August.

Fita says the government's refusal to engage with it on the matter has been difficult.

“It's been extremely frustrating for us, particularly in light of the fact that government has seemingly taken a position not to engage the industry in any manner whatsoever,” said Mnguni.

“We do not know the reasons for government adopting such a position given the fact that they have engaged most industries.”

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has remained firm in her decision to uphold the ban, reiterating that smoking could result in more severe Covid-19 symptoms, among others.

She said the tobacco-related regulation imposed by the National Command Council was put in place to prevent a possible strain on public health, with SA still anticipating a period of peak infections in the coming weeks.

“Prohibiting the sale of tobacco products during lockdown serves to reduce these risks, not only in respect of smokers themselves, but also those who would otherwise be exposed to second-hand smoke under lockdown conditions,” Dlamini-Zuma told media recently.

Mnguni said government communications in their press briefings on when the ban will be lifted have been “very vague and at times evasive to date.

“There has further been no direct engagement with industry on this issue and when the ban is expected to be lifted, something which we find quite peculiar given that most industries have been engaged by government in relation to the restrictions affecting particular industries.”

Fita feels the government has treated the tobacco industry unfairly. “This is something we raised in our court papers. The President has even gone on record in the Presidential Imbizo and stated in relation to alcohol that, ‘we cannot ban alcohol forever. Where it has been banned there has been illicit trade and other major issues.’ Surely common sense dictates that this be applied with respect to cigarettes too?

“The longer this ban remains in place, the more indefensible it becomes, but government refuses to change its stance on this issue despite having previously announced on April 23 that the ban would be lifted with effect from May 1.

The ban has continued to severely impact the tobacco industry in the country, he said.

“One can only imagine the impact on the industry given the fact that there has largely been inactivity in our industry along its value chain for the last three months. There are thousands of people who rely on the tobacco industry for a living along its value chain. Many tobacconists have also had to shut down.”

There was the possibility of the illicit trade “growing to a point where there is not much left of the legitimate industry once the ban is lifted.

The Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs did not respond to queries this week.

The Saturday Star

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