Fita brings in its own medical experts to challenge ban on cigarette sales

No short-term benefit to quitting and no proof of freeing up of hospital beds

08 June 2020 - 14:22 By Ernest Mabuza
One of the medical professionals whose report has been submitted to court by Fita said research has conclusively shown that, owing to the highly addictive nature of tobacco, the short-term success rate of quitting smoking - unless accompanied by significant supporting interventions - is only 4%.
One of the medical professionals whose report has been submitted to court by Fita said research has conclusively shown that, owing to the highly addictive nature of tobacco, the short-term success rate of quitting smoking - unless accompanied by significant supporting interventions - is only 4%.
Image: 123rf.com/marcbruxelle

The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) has attached two reports from medical professionals showing that banning the sale of tobacco products and cigarettes is unlikely to have any significant effects on the patterns of use and availability.

Fita went to the high court in Pretoria in May to ask it to set aside the regulations announced by co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to ban the sale and purchase of cigarettes and tobacco products under levels 4 and 3 of the lockdown.

Dlamini-Zuma is defending the temporary ban and opposing the application.

In her reasons provided to court on May 27, Dlamini-Zuma said the temporary ban on the sale of tobacco products would mean a "sizeable number of South Africans" would quit smoking once lockdown comes to an end.

She said a report by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) indicated that 88% of smokers were not able to buy cigarettes during level 5 lockdown, suggesting the temporary ban was effective in reducing access to and use of cigarettes.

Two TimesLIVE reporters went out on a rainy Cape Town morning on May 29 2020 to determine how easy it was to locate cigarettes during lockdown and how much they were fetching on the black market.

Dlamini-Zuma said in her answering affidavit filed last week that prohibiting the sale of cigarettes has proven to be an effective measure to reduce the number of people who smoke, or the amount they smoke.

However, in its replying affidavit filed at the weekend, Fita said it had mandated Dr Michael West, a psychiatrist, to comment on Dlamini-Zuma's affidavit.

"West's findings are telling. He states that simply banning the sale of tobacco is unlikely to have any significant effect on patterns of use and availability; and that there are no good evidentiary examples of such a policy decision leading to these outcomes," Fita chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni said in the affidavit.

In his report, West said there was no evidence to suggest that short-term cessation of smoking will result in lower prevalence of smoking that will be sustained when the ban is lifted.

"There is no evidence to suggest the ban on tobacco sales has led to 'freeing-up' capacity in hospital beds, nor is there evidence that the continued use of tobacco, in spite of lockdown regulations, has or will, directly lead/led to a catastrophic overburdening of the health-care system," West said in his report.

Fita also presented a report from Dr Keith Scott, who said the HSRC report Dlamini-Zuma relied upon had failed to consider that many more fortunate smokers may have been able to store sufficient stocks of cigarettes to last them several weeks, while less fortunate people could not afford to do so.

In his report Scott said he was a medical doctor with more than 50 years of practice in primary health care.

Scott said research has conclusively shown that, owing to the highly addictive nature of tobacco, the short-term success rate of quitting smoking - unless accompanied by significant supporting interventions - is only 4%.

"Dr Scott concludes that whatever the number of people who are successfully able to quit as a result of the ban on the sale of tobacco products implemented during the lockdown these people will not reap any benefit therefrom, specifically in relation to contracting Covid-19 in the short term, and the severity of the disease which may develop," Mnguni said.

The matter is set to be heard this week.

On its social media account, Fita said: "The judges hearing the matter will use tomorrow, June 9 2020, to consider the legal arguments advanced by the parties, and the matter will proceed to be heard on June 10 2020." 


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