Lockdown: Tobacco association to challenge cigarette ban in court

 (Cornel van Heerden/Gallo Images)
(Cornel van Heerden/Gallo Images)

The Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) will be approaching the courts to have the ban on the sale of cigarettes under the national lockdown lifted.

In a statement, the organisation said it had been in consultation with its legal team and had taken a decision to pursue court action.

"Over the last few days, we have been consulting with our legal team and we have come to the decision to approach the courts for the appropriate relief, vis-à-vis the ban on the sale of cigarettes. This decision was not taken lightly and we had hoped that a logical solution in the best interests of all concerned would be arrived at without the need for litigation," FITA chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni said.

The ban had not stopped people from buying cigarettes during the lockdown period and had instead resulted in a number of economic and social concerns, he added. FITA is now calling for the distribution and sale of cigarettes to resume at retail stores, spaza shops and filling stations.

The organisation also stated that, while it fully supported the government’s measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the uncertainty around the possible extension of the lockdown had left FITA "with little choice but to take such a drastic step". The indefinite continuation of the cigarette ban due to the national lockdown was likely to cause job losses for many along the tobacco industry value chain, FITA added.

"The simple truth is that the current situation cannot be endured for much longer by the various roleplayers along the tobacco industry value chain without severe consequences for all. This includes farmworkers, factory workers, informal traders, and the many other ordinary South Africans who rely on the tobacco industry for a living, and whose livelihoods are currently at stake," Mnguni said.

READ | Not selling booze and tobacco during lockdown 'harmful to addicts'

FITA claims that the ban has had various other social effects, including criminal acts by some in an attempt to obtain cigarettes and an increase in the illicit trade. The ban is also resulting in an estimated loss of around R1.5 billion a month on excise alone, it says.

"The regulations have not stopped people from buying cigarettes during the lockdown period. People are sourcing cigarettes and other goods from underground markets, to the detriment of the fiscus... Reducing the rate of infection is a laudable goal.

"Our mere request is that government authorise, at a minimum, the distribution and sale of cigarettes at retail stores, spaza shops and filling stations where citizens are currently permitted to purchase what has been classified as essential goods. This would give the economy a much-needed boost and avoid a situation where our citizens, out of desperation, contravene the regulations of the lockdown en masse," said Mnguni.

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