'No proof that tobacco ban reduces risk of Covid-19 transmission': BAT SA
Co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma has failed to prove that the ban on the sale of tobacco products was legally necessary.
She also failed to prove that the ban reduces the risk of transmission of Covid-19 or the progression of the disease.
These arguments were presented in an answering affidavit by British American Tobacco SA and several organisations on Thursday in their case launched in the Western Cape High Court to challenge Dlamini-Zuma's regulation banning the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products.
The affidavit by BAT SA CEO Andre Joubert said Dlamini-Zuma's case was built on the argument that the sale of tobacco and vaping products served to “protect human life and health and to reduce the potential strain on the health-care system”.
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. The sale of tobacco products has been banned by government for 'health reasons' across South Africa since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown at the end of March.
Joubert said the minister stated that the prohibition on the sale was designed to reduce the risks of transmission and contracting a severe form of Covid-19, and avoid an increased strain on the health-care system, particularly intensive care unit beds and ventilators.
Joubert said for this argument to succeed, the minister must not only show that the use of tobacco and vaping products was causally related to the risks of contraction, she must show that preventing people from using these products during the limited period of the ban means that these risks will not come to pass.
“The minister has failed to meet both legs of the inquiry,” said Joubert.
Joubert said an expert who had filed an affidavit to provide an opinion on smoking and Covid-19, Dr Jaymin Morjaria, states that the scientific evidence does not support Dlamini-Zuma's argument.
Morjaria said there was evidence to the contrary, that current smokers have a lower risk of infections and developing severe outcomes that require hospitalisation.
Joubert said it was not surprising that Dlamini-Zuma concedes in her answering affidavit that medical literature was not absolutely conclusive.
“Once that concession is made, it cannot be said that it is 'necessary' to prohibit the sale of tobacco and vaping products,” Joubert said.
The matter was initially set down to be heard next week but will now be heard early in August.
BAT SA said in a statement on Friday that the decision not to hear the urgent application until August 5 and 6 was “inexplicable” and “worrying”.
“By the time the case is heard the ban will have been in place for four-and-a-half months during which time billions of illegal cigarettes will have been sold,” said Johnny Moloto of BAT SA.
Saai, an organisation representing the interests of tobacco farmers and farm workers, will attend the hearing.
Dr Theo de Jager, chair of the organisation's board of directors, said in a statement that the tobacco sales ban had left farmers and farm workers in despair. “It has destroyed marketing opportunities, income streams, jobs and livelihoods in the primary production sector.”
South Africans have been unable to purchase cigarettes since the start of the nationwide lockdown on March 26 2020. The restaurant business has been severely affected by the lockdown and some of those in the industry who are now jobless have resorted to trading illicit cigarettes as a means of survival.