More than 300 000 South Africans are opposing the tobacco ban and FITA to take government to court

Photo by JJ Shev on Unsplash

During last night’s national address, Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma almost successfully put an entire nation to sleep before 8 pm with her briefing, really Cyril, we missed you.

The only announcement that shook most South Africans back awake and brought them to attention was the fact that the government decided to retract on the current tobacco ban which was meant to be lifted tomorrow, 1 May.

Her announcement comes just days after President Cyril confirmed that the ban would be lifted and the sale of tobacco products at essential outlets and petrol stations would continue as normal – but apparently not.

According to Minster Zuma’s briefing, the sale of all tobacco products will still be prohibited during level 4 lockdown – the phase in which the country moves into on Friday 1 May.

The sudden change comes after the government reportedly received a mere 2000 submissions from the public opposing the sale of tobacco products – but apparently, they forgot to take into account the 299,542 (and rapidly growing) signatures made by the public – on one petition alone, multiple petitions are active- who are PRO SALE of tobacco products.

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The minister also said smoking was a risk due to sharing cigarettes and cannabis and licking rolling paper. While smoking obviously and undeniably compromises the lungs, it’s not the sole factor in making someone vulnerable to COVID-19 – young, healthy, non-smokers are going into ICU every day with COVID complications. Smoking, however, will make having a respiratory infection more severe, should your case even go that far. But freedom of choice, right?

Perhaps the ANC should focus their efforts more on educating people and getting them the PPE gear they need and the ventilators our country needs, hospital space and testing points, proper sanitation and water in townships or how about just paying the people’s grants on time?

I understand the Minster’s sentiment in trying to protect people and saving lives, but the fact remains, the virus will peak and so will the numbers for both smokers and non-smokers, the young and the old, and the best-case scenario we have is to be fiscally prepared in terms of health care capacity and abundant PPE stock, life-saving equipment and the funds to support those who are suffering financial hardships- all of which takes big capital.

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Instead, the government has chosen culpable economic suicide by cutting out the sale of cigarettes and alcohol which could help fund COVID relief and our buckling economy. The much-needed injection of funds from these less-than-healthy products could further assist the government in preparing the health system for when the virus peaks in South Africa – which is projected around July- September this year. We need to expand, improve and prepare our system and with most industries out of action, the economy is beginning to haemorrhage.

The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) agrees and will be right on the government’s heels with legal action starting this week, FITA’s Sinenhlanhla Mnguni confirmed to News24 on Wednesday.

“We had previously taken steps in this regard, but there was then no need to go to court due to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that the sale of cigarettes would be permitted,” he told News24. “We will be consulting with our attorneys and senior counsel at 08:30 [on Thursday], and finalising our court application during the day to be served on the government as soon as reasonably possible.”

If you agree, sign the petition to end the tobacco ban right here. Read more on the latest COVID-19 news, right here.

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