Covid-19: Cigarette industry drops legal challenge as smokes set to return to shelves
While counting its losses, SA's cigarette industry on Friday welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement that legal sales will be permitted during the next phase of the lockdown period beginning May 1.
“This, together with the tax relief extended to cigarette manufacturers and other industries announced by [finance] minister Tito Mboweni [on Thursday], are steps in the right direction by government in mitigating the damaging effects of the lockdown period,” said Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni.
“We as an organisation are now of the view that there is no longer a need to proceed with the legal steps we had initiated against government.”
The tobacco ban was implemented on March 27 after trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel said tobacco products were not essential goods. Health minister Zweli Mkhize has also said smoking and drinking alcohol hindered attempts to contain the coronavirus.
Fita mounted a legal challenge on the basis of the prohibition and began lobbying government, asking Ramaphosa and his ministers to explain how the ban of their product limited or delayed the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
It is estimated that the ban on the sale of tobacco products cost SA almost R500m in cigarette excise duties in the first two weeks of lockdown.
Mnguni said the government's steps this week were in line with what Fita had proposed to government throughout the lockdown period in its engagement with them.
“Despite taking legal steps to have the ban on cigarette sales uplifted, we and our legal team had always extended an invitation to government to engage Fita.
“We will continue to engage with government to obtain clarity on what the implications of the next phase in government’s efforts at combating the virus mean for our industry along the entire value chain,” said Mnguni.