Almost half of the public submissions the government has filed in court have nothing to do with the issue of cigarette sales during the lockdown, according to the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA).
FITA is challenging the government’s ban on cigarette sales in court and has cited President Cyril Ramaphosa and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as respondents.
In late April, Dlamini-Zuma told a media briefing that the government had received around 2,000 submissions from the public objecting to the sale of cigarettes during level 4 lockdown.
‘47% had nothing to do with ban’
However, in a tweet on Thursday, FITA said the respondents produced 1,535 submissions and 47% of them had “nothing to do with the issue of cigarettes.”
It said, “Of the 1,535 public submissions the respondents produced as part of the record (there were also some duplicates which we did not count), 47.2% have nothing to do with the issue of cigarettes. 23.2% were in favour of smoking and/or vaping and 29.6% were in favour of the ban.”
In an affidavit accompanying the record, Dlamini-Zuma said the ban is aimed at protecting human life and health while reducing the potential strain on the healthcare system.
She argued that smokers who contract COVID-19 could put additional strain on healthcare services because “smokers have higher ICU admissions, higher need for ventilation and a higher mortality rate than non-smokers.”
Ban likely to be lifted at level 2 – Mthembu
On Wednesday, FITA said it will file supplementary papers in response to the government’s record by Friday. The matter is then likely to be heard in the week of 9 June.
Meanwhile, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu has said the ban is only likely to be lifted during alert level 2.
Speaking to Eyewitness News on Thursday, Mthembu said, “The ban on cigarettes – it’s just at this level we are in. We don’t know how many weeks we will be at this level. I can assure you after we’ve been out of level 3, I don’t see the ban on the sale of cigarettes continuing.”
The controversial ban has been in place since 27 March when the country went into level 5 lockdown. The government has since extended it to level 4 and level 3, which begins on 1 June.
Although Dlamini-Zuma argued in court papers that the ban was effective in reducing access to cigarettes “and usage thereof” during level 5, a study by University of Cape Town researchers argued that it wasn’t.
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.”