Legal actions to unban tobacco continue

The sale of tobacco products in South Africa is still banned. However, the Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) is happy with the concession by government to allow its members to manufacture and export tobacco products after it went to court over the ban of tobacco sales in South Africa during the lockdown. Picture: iStock/ Rattankun Thongbun
The sale of tobacco products in South Africa is still banned. However, the Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) is happy with the concession by government to allow its members to manufacture and export tobacco products after it went to court over the ban of tobacco sales in South Africa during the lockdown. Picture: iStock/ Rattankun Thongbun

The Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) is happy with the concession by government to allow its members to manufacture and export tobacco products after it went to court over the ban of tobacco sales in South Africa during the lockdown to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Fita chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni said tobacco companies would now be allowed to manufacture and export products under the level 4 revised lockdown regulations announced by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on April 29.

However, the sale of tobacco products in South Africa is still banned, despite President Cyril Ramaphosa’s initial announcement that cigarettes could be sold under level 4 regulations.

Mnguni told City Press this week that the decision to allow the exports was a result of ongoing negotiations with government.

“We are heartened that we have already received a concession from government in relation to some of the relief we sought, which allows the companies that fall under us to manufacture and export [tobacco products],” he said.

The concession was made after Fita went to court on Monday to challenge the ban.

The association also wanted government to prove a link between the dangers of smoking and the Covid-19 coronavirus, as well as why it was necessary to ban the sale of tobacco products in the country.

We are heartened that we have already received a concession from government in relation to some of the relief we sought, which allows the companies that fall under us to manufacture and export [tobacco products]
Sinenhlanhla Mnguni, Fita chairperson

Mnguni said they had also received a response from the State Attorney’s office, on behalf of the president, stating that government would oppose it.

“We made our court application on Monday morning and on Thursday we received a notice of the intention to oppose it. There has also been correspondence with the parties, but, for now, I am not at liberty to disclose anything. The matter is at a very crucial point.”

Mnguni said the ban of tobacco sales not only affected companies financially, it also posed a threat to smokers’ wellbeing.

“There are 11 million smokers who can pay the salaries of Fita members and their staff. Those are the people we are fighting for; we have to see it through for them. There are symptoms related to nicotine withdrawal,” he said.

The exporters include Afroberg Tobacco Manufacturing, Best Tobacco Company, Carnilinx Tobacco Company, Folha Manufacturers, Gold Leaf Tobacco Corporation, Protobac and Home of Cut Rag. They were instructed to do all the manufacturing and transporting of products under strict health protocols.

Last week, SA Revenue Service commissioner Edward Kieswetter said the country had lost about R300 million in tax revenue in just one month since the ban on the sale of tobacco had came into effect.

Read: British American Tobacco drops legal action against government

Mnguni attributed this loss of revenue to the rise in cases of illicit tobacco trade reported around the country under lockdown since March.

Fita, in an urgent application to the Pretoria High Court on Monday, said that government needed to prove the link between smoking tobacco sales and Covid-19 infections.

The association demanded that the court force Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma to explain government’s U-turn on cigarettes sales. Fita gave government until May 19 to provide it with minutes and records of the meetings of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), where the decision was made.

Meanwhile, DA interim leader John Steenhuisen announced on Friday that the party would use the Promotion of Access to Information Act to press government to disclose what had been discussed in the NCCC meetings.

In a letter addressed to Dan Mashitisho, the information officer at the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Steenhuisen wrote: “We are functioning in extraordinary circumstances, where decisions are taken which are not subject to oversight, as intended in the Constitution.

In another turn of events, British American Tobacco SA, which had initially threatened legal action over the cigarette sales ban, earlier this week announced that it was abandoning its lawsuit against governmen

“The decisions do, however, have a significant impact on the daily lives of citizens. In a constitutional democracy, I am sure you will agree, the people are entitled to the information informing decisions that impact materially on every aspect of their lives.”

The party demanded that the information be made available by May 14.

In another turn of events, British American Tobacco SA, which had initially threatened legal action over the cigarette sales ban, earlier this week announced that it was abandoning its lawsuit against government.

The company said it had instead chosen to enter into discussions with government on the issue.

“Having considered the response from the government and noting President Cyril Ramaphosa’s public statement of Monday, May 4, as a business, we have taken the decision not to pursue legal action at this stage, but, instead, to pursue further discussions with government on the formulation and application of the regulations under the Covid-19 lockdown,” a statement from the company read.

Government has a new ally as it fights off legal challenges related to the tobacco products ban.

The National Association of Democratic Lawyers this week said it would be supporting it in opposing Fita’s court challenge. The association said it would act as friends of the court. It said evidence showed that it was in the best interest of society that cigarette and tobacco sales remained banned during lockdown.

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