The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein has confirmed a lower court's ruling that government was wrong to ban the sale of cigarettes at the start of the nationwide "hard" lockdown in March 2020.
"There was no scientific justification for the continued ban on the sale of tobacco products: there is no evidence that short-term quitting has clinical significance for Covid-19 severity and outcomes," the court ruled.
The matter came before the SCA after Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, appealed a previous ruling of the Western Cape High Court, which found the ban was unnecessary and unconstitutional.
The minister's appeal has now been dismissed with costs. Together with her co-applicant President Cyril Ramaphosa, she has also been ordered to pay the expenses of tobacco giant British American Tobacco South Africa in the original case before the Western Cape High Court.
A strong advocate for the tobacco ban, Dlamini-Zuma had argued it was necessary to protect lives and reduce strain on SA's healthcare system.
The ban was strongly opposed by cigarette manufacturers and farmers, who argued it was pointless and would force smokers into the black market.
The SCA found that Dlamini-Zuma had little scientific evidence to support her claims.
"The Minister's statement that 'smokers are more likely to develop severe disease with Covid-19, compared to non-smokers', was not established in the evidence," the court found.
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