Thursday | 28 May | 2020
By Reon Janse van Rensburg
If you are a smoker or are trying to survive the lockdown with a smoker you may already be aware of the fact that the ban on the sale of cigarettes will not be lifted under Level 3 of the national lockdown. This came as a disappointment especially to smokers because the public had high expectations that the ban would be lifted by President Ramaphosa.
In a statement of the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the minister provided reasons that explain government’s decision to continue the ban on the sale of cigarettes.
According to the minister, the use of tobacco products leads to respiratory illnesses and also affects people who are exposed to secondary smoking, even in cases not related to the Covid-19 virus. Dlamini-Zuma argues that research shows that Covid-19 had a more severe impact on smokers than on non-smokers and that more smokers than non-smokers have to be admitted to high-care units. The research also indicates that smokers need ventilators more than other patients do, and their mortality rate is therefore higher than in the case of non-smokers.
The minister pointed out that people share cigarettes and tobacco products and in this way saliva is transferred from one person to the other. This practice also impacts on maintaining social distance.
The minister says that a report indicated that 88% of smokers were not able to buy cigarettes during level 5 of the lockdown, which is an indication that the temporary ban was effective in reducing access to cigarettes and the usage thereof.
Earlier, SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni expressed their concern about the impact of the ban on products such as cigarettes and liquor on the country’s revenue. Kieswetter mentioned that the country had already lost more than R1,5 billion in revenue due to the ban on liquor and cigarettes while Mboweni said that in the current circumstances Treasury expects a 32% decrease in the country’s revenue.
Many pressure groups, including AfriForum and the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association, have already intervened on behalf of smokers as well as tobacco manufacturers and sellers. The civil rights organisation AfriForum, which is part of the Solidarity Movement, sent a lawyer’s letter to Minister Dlamini-Zuma and to Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize notifying the ministers that AfriForum would take legal action.
According to Ernst Roets, AfriForum’s head of policy and action, there is no rational basis for the smoking ban. He also argues that government’s secrecy in this regard amounts to a violation of civil rights.
Roets pointed out that AfriForum was not putting up a fight for smoking but for freedom – the freedom of a community not to be subjected to outrageous regulations.
* All information was correct at the time of publication.