Government said among its reasons for banning the sale of cigarettes during the lockdown was the fear that the products would lead to high transmissions of COVID-19 in poorer communities.
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Tuesday said she and her Cabinet colleagues had chosen to protect lives.
This was part of her submission following a court application by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA), which is challenging the constitutionality of the ban by the National Coronavirus Command Council.
In the court papers, Dlamini-Zuma said people were more likely to share cigarettes, hookah pipes, zol, lighters, and matchboxes in poor communities.
She substantiated this by explaining that in South Africa, the practice of puffing and sharing and “roll your own tobacco” involves the use of saliva as an adhesive.
The minister said during a pandemic, this trend increases the risk of cross-infection.
In the supplementary documents submitted to the court by FITA, they share emails by people in support of the re-opening of sales who argued that government had taken away their right to self-determination.
Dlamini-Zuma also addressed concerns around addiction and withdrawal, saying these were considered and government was sympathetic to the concerns of those who were finding it difficult to abstain from smoking.
She explained that the government simply could not afford to have thousands of smokers taking up ventilators and ICU beds due to vulnerabilities associated with smoking and the extent of the virus’ impact on the body.
The detailed record of reasons also cited scientific studies that supported government’s stance that there was evidence that the use of tobacco increased the risk of COVID-19 transmission and the potential to contract a more severe form of the disease.
She also admitted, though, that studies around the potential links between the use of tobacco products and COVID-19 were still being undertaken.
The document further reads that because tobacco is known to lead to respiratory diseases and COVID-19 primarily affects that part of the body, it is logical to proceed on the basis that it may lead to increased risks.
For official information about COVID-19 from the Department of Health, please click here.