We're not going anywhere, says Mzansi's oldest tobacconist

Sturk's Tobacconists owner Diane Chakim has refuted claims and reports that her business – which is the oldest tobacconist in the country – is closing down, saying that it is instead closing its physical store for the duration of the lockdown until policy clarity on tobacco trade in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic prevails.

Sturk's Tobacconists, which previously traded from a store on Cape Town's Greenmarket Square, was established over 200 years ago in 1793, and has since offered services including blended tobacco mixes for pipe smokers, cigar brands and accessories including rolling papers, cigar clippers and lighters.

The national lockdown, put in place to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus, has also come with regulations banning the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products, a move which business formations and lobby groups have challenged as irrational.

The Cape Town business announced that it would close its physical store on the same week that the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ruled the lockdown regulations as unconstitutional.

'Sturk's is alive and kicking'

Chakim said the decision to close the physical store did not mean the business was in financial dire straits. Rather, she did not see any sense in paying overhead costs and rent for a business which had not been operating for months.

"The physical address is closed. The physical store doesn't exist as Sturk's anymore. But Sturk's is not out of business. It is just waiting for lockdown and is just waiting for the end of lockdown. We are not in dire financial straits," said Chakim.

Chakim said the business would continue to operate, when permitted to, but would focus on the courier delivery of its products. She said Sturk's would make use of a sister business, Casa Tabacs at the Gardens Shopping Centre, for collections.

"Sturk's as the brand is alive and kicking. I will answer phone calls, SMSs and emails. I will take your orders and write them down and keep it. Your product order will be ordered, and you can collect it, or I will courier," Chakim said.

Chakim said she was not surprised that the lockdown regulations were ruled unconstitutional by the North Gauteng High Court, adding that the ban on tobacco has only prompted smokers to resort to getting cigarettes from the illicit market at irregularly high prices.

"The fact that it’s unconstitutional doesn't surprise me. From day one it made no sense whatsoever, regarding smoking. Alcohol made some sense, but while I know that smoking is bad for your health, you're not going to go on a rampage after smoking ten cigarettes," she said.

Briefing the media on Thursday afternoon after a Cabinet meeting on the same day, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu said Cabinet noted the High Court ruling and said government planned to take the ruling on appeal.

"We are of the view that another court might come to a different decision on the matter," said Mthembu, regarding the special Cabinet meeting which took place specifically to discuss the ruling.

Mthembu added that the appeal would happen at the North Gauteng High Court and could escalate to the Constitutional Court. He said, pending the appeal, the lockdown regulations remained in full effect.

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