The Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) has on Monday launched an urgent court application against the government’s decision to ban the sale of cigarettes during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The organisation exists to protect and further establish the business, legislative and constitutional interests and rights of its members and the tobacco industry by lobbying among other methods.
It argues that the president and minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs acted unconstitutionally in declaring that tobacco products cannot be sold as part of the restrictions.
Fita’s application, which is split into two parts, seeks in Part A to discover what informed the government’s decision to exclude tobacco products as essential goods – ordering to be furnished with minutes and records of the meetings of the national command council.
These would be meetings where a “vote was taken” to promulgate the regulations published in the government gazette on 25 March when the lockdown commenced initially and for the minutes of the meeting which informed the president’s announcement that the sale of cigarettes would be permitted – only to be later withdrawn.
Fita gave government until 19 May to turn over the minutes and records.
However, at the crux of the application as contained in the affidavit by Fita chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni – is an argument that said the “sudden and ill considered” ban on the sale of legal tobacco products had a serious health and welfare impact on millions of South Africans.
The belief, backed by medical specialists in the application, contrasts that of the World Health Organisation, which has warned that smokers are vulnerable to COVID-19.
He also describes as enormous the negative commercial impact the regulation has on manufacturers and retailers of tobacco products, adding that they have a right to pursue their business.
So far, the economy has lost over R1 billion in revenue due to the ban on the sale of the products.