Tobacco and alcohol associations demand answers over lockdown bans

20 April 2020 - 17:10
By Nomahlubi Jordaan
The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) has written to the president about the ongoing ban on cigarette sales.
Image: The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) has written to the president about the ongoing ban on cigarette sales.

The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) has written to the presidency seeking clarity on how the ban on the sale of cigarettes limits or curbs the spread of Covid-19.

The letter, written on Monday, was addressed to President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ministers of health, police, justice, trade and industry, and co-operative governance and traditional affairs.

In it, Fita seeks clarity on a number of issues, including an explanation on what basis the government contends that the lockdown regulations prohibit the sale of cigarettes.

“We wish to point out that even if it can be contended that the regulations, properly construed, prohibit the sale of cigarettes, then they are invalid. They are irrational and not properly related to the purpose for which they were made,” wrote the association.

Fita has called on the government to provide evidence that the prohibition on the sale of cigarettes helps in delaying or limiting Covid-19.

“What is the state's source of power to prohibit the sale of cigarettes? Was consideration given [to] imposing limitations to the sale of cigarettes, as opposed to imposing a total ban on their sale?” asked the association.

The ban on the sale of cigarettes, said Fita, would not achieve the stated purpose for which the regulations were made as cigarettes were still being distributed by people who were not paying duty fees.

It also asked the government why it had not prohibited the sale of non-essential items such as fizzy drinks or junk food.

“Fita is of the view that the foregoing matters were not considered — or if they were, they were not properly considered,” it said.

“Fita respectfully asks — as it is entitled to do in terms of the constitution — for your reasons for imposing the prohibitions.

“You will appreciate that this is a matter of urgency: the livelihoods of Fita members are at stake. In the circumstances, we request that you furnish your reasons and the answers in the matters we have raised.”

The organisation has given the presidency until midday Tuesday to respond to the letter.

Meanwhile, the Gauteng Liquor Forum has written another letter to the presidency seeking further information on the ban on the sale of alcohol. This comes after it initially wrote to demand that the ban be lifted or eased.

Ramaphosa declined the request, however, saying the decision was taken to uphold the restrictions because of the “dangers associated” with the sale of alcohol.

Eric Mabuza, the lawyer representing the 20,000 micro- and small businesses in Gauteng, told TimesLIVE on Monday that they had written back to the presidency to seek “some information”.

“We are waiting for the president to respond,” he said, adding that they had given the presidency until Thursday to do so.

Mabuza said the forum had, upon a request from the presidency, halted its plans to approach the Constitutional Court.