Cigarette sales ban battle continues: Here is what you need to know

09 June 2020 - 08:09
By Unathi Nkanjeni

The cigarette sales ban in SA continues as tobacco companies prepare to argue in court for the ban to be lifted and their products to be allowed to be sold under lockdown regulations.

Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association's (Fita) case is set to be heard in the Pretoria high court on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Here is what you need to know.

Taking it to court ... again

According to Fita, the government’s “high-handed” approach to lockdown regulations, which includes the controversial smoking ban, is turning people against the lockdown.

TimesLIVE reported that the group said co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma expressed disdain for smokers and the industry.

Fita also criticised Dlamini-Zuma’s argument, saying that the ban forced smokers to quit smoking without their consent.

'Protect human life and health'

In an affidavit filed with the high court in Pretoria last Wednesday, Dlamini-Zuma said the temporary ban on the sale of tobacco products during level 4 was to “protect human life and health and to reduce the potential strain on the health care system”.

She said available research showed that the severity of Covid-19 outcomes was greater in smokers than non-smokers.

“Smokers have higher intensive care unit admissions, higher need for ventilation and a higher mortality rate than non-smokers.”

Dlamini-Zuma, in a speech in April subsequently parodied in a popular meme song, also explained that “when people zol, they put saliva on the paper ... And when they share that zol ... they are moving saliva from one to the other.”


Speaking on 702 on Friday, Fita's chair Sinenhlanhla Mnguni said the ban on cigarette sales was irrational.

Mguni said the government's argument that smoking could lead to an increase in coronavirus cases and even death was not valid.

“Many other things can also lead to death, that is why there are health warnings on packets of cigarettes, you have the same warnings on alcoholic beverages and many other items.

“We accept that there is harm suffered by one's lungs especially if they have been a long-term smoker. But that cannot be undone by the cessation of smoking over a six-week period.”

Invalid and constitutional regulations 

On Tuesday, the North Gauteng High Court declared that the regulations gazetted by Dlamini-Zuma for level 4 and 3 were “unconstitutional and invalid”.

Judge Norman Davis also noted that some of the regulations failed to pass the “rationality test”.

After studying the judgment, a special sitting of the cabinet resolved on Thursday to appeal against it.

Minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu said the government was willing to take its defence of the regulations to the Supreme Court of Appeal.

When ciggies could be back

In an interview on SABC at the end of May, President Cyril Ramaphosa called on smokers to be patient, saying the lockdown would not last forever.

“We are not permanently going to be on level 3. We are going to migrate to another level. Even those who are hankering for tobacco, they must know that it is only a matter of time before their hankering is assuaged or addressed.” 

Ramaphosa's statement came after Mthembu hinted that the ban on tobacco would likely be lifted at level 2 of the lockdown.

“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,” Mthembu said.