Difficult to determine when cigarette sale ban will be lifted – Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa has said it is difficult to determine when the ban on the sale of cigarettes will be lifted.

Ramaphosa made the admission in a written parliamentary reply to a question from the Democratic Alliance (DA), which also sought “empirical evidence” for the ban.

He said, “[Lifting the ban] will depend on such factors as the progression of the disease in South Africa, the readiness of our health systems and evolving knowledge on the nature and impact of the virus itself.”

Submissions, medical literature

Regarding empirical evidence, the President cited “submissions received” as well as “relevant medical literature focusing inter alia on the effects of smoking on public and individual health, especially in the face of a respiratory illness such as COVID-19.”

He further explained that the government’s decision to reverse his announcement that cigarette sales would be permitted during alert level 4 was taken after representations from “various organisations and individuals and further consideration of relevant medical studies and advice.”

In a statement on Friday, however, DA MP Dean Macpherson claimed Ramaphosa’s reply was an admission that he has no empirical evidence to support the continued ban.

“The continued punting of submissions received is also ludicrous given the fact that government only received 454 public submissions in favour of the tobacco ban,” he said.

FITA, BAT SA cases

Macpherson further claimed that contrary to Ramaphosa’s reply, the ban “has seemingly everything to do with whims and wills [of] Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and those in the illicit trade who would benefit from such a ban.”

The government is currently locked in court cases launched by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) and British American Tobacco SA (BAT SA) against the ban.

FITA’s case is expected to be heard at the Pretoria high court this week. Its chairperson, Sinenhlanhla Mnguni, called the government’s position “arbitrary” in an interview with BusinessTech.

He said, “If we go into the depths of the legal argument, it is quite baffling, as they state in their own papers and even in some of the medical reports that they rely on that there is no link between smoking and COVID-19.”

Announcing the company’s legal action in late May, Johnny Moloto, BAT SA’s head of eternal affairs, also said, “The government’s continued ban on tobacco sales is threatening the survival of the legal tobacco sector and the livelihoods it directly supports. 

“It has only succeeded in significantly growing a massive and nationwide illegal industry at the direct expense of law-abiding businesses, citizens and taxpayers.”

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