Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has explained the government’s ban on cigarette sales in court papers filed on Wednesday.
In response to the legal action by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) seeking reasons for the ban, Dlamini-Zuma said the ban is aimed at protecting human life and health while reducing the potential strain on the healthcare system.
She added, “It is expected that a sizeable number of South Africans will stop smoking and remain quit after the lockdown. The poor and youth are particularly likely to quit.”
‘Strain on healthcare services’
The government instituted the controversial ban during levels 5 and 4 lockdowns. President Cyril Ramaphosa recently announced that it will remain in place during alert level 3 that starts on 1 June.
Dlamini-Zuma further explained, “The Constitution imposes positive duties on the state to protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights, including the right to life and the right to have access to healthcare services.
“From the studies that have been done so far, the evidence is that the use of tobacco products increases not only the risk of transmission of COVID-19, but also the risk of contracting a more severe form of the disease.”
This could in turn put additional strain on healthcare services because “smokers have higher ICU admissions, higher need for ventilation and a higher mortality rate than non-smokers,” the Minister added.
Effectiveness of ban
Dlamini-Zuma argued, “A report by the Human Sciences Research Council indicates that 88 percent of smokers were not able to buy cigarettes during level 5 lockdown, suggesting that the temporary ban was effective in reducing access to cigarettes and usage thereof.”
This contradicts another study by University of Cape Town researchers released in mid-May which was based on a survey of 16,000 respondents.
The researchers, Corne van Walbeek, Samantha Filby and Kirsten van der Zee, found that the ban was “failing on what it was supposed to do.” They added, “Smokers are buying cigarettes in large quantities despite the lockdown, and unusual brands are becoming prevalent.”
Dlamini-Zuma further explained that tobacco use involves higher behavioural risks linked to COVID-19 transmissions, such as sharing of cigarettes in poorer communities.
FITA confirmed on Wednesday morning that it had received the government’s record of decision and reasons for the ban from the state attorney.
“We are now finalising our supplementary papers which will be served on the Respondents by no later than 29 May, 2020,” it said. The matter is then likely to be heard in the week of 9 June.