If co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is concerned that sharing cigarettes may increase the spread of Covid-19, why did she not ban the sale of cooldrinks as well?
This was one of the arguments advanced by British American Tobacco SA (Batsa) before its legal fight to overturn the cigarette sales ban. Batsa — and other litigants including farmers, processors, manufactures, retailers and consumers — are taking legal action against Dlamini-Zuma, President Cyril Ramaphosa and the national coronavirus command council in the high court in Cape Town.
The matter will be heard by the full bench on Wednesday.
“As far as the minister’s concern is that smoking and vaping increase the risk that people may develop Covid-19 as a result of repeated hand-to-mouth action associated with smoking and vaping, this concern could be addressed in a less restrictive manner by way of awareness campaigns regarding hygiene and hand washing,” Batsa said in court papers.
“That is, after all, why the government has implemented widespread education and awareness campaigns to educate the public to take measures to reduce the spread of the virus. For example, the government has not prohibited the sale of cold drinks merely because they are capable of being shared from the same bottle or can; it has rather educated consumers not to share bottles or cans.”
Batsa says in court papers that Dlamini-Zuma’s decision has increased risky behaviour among smokers because of the proliferation of illicit cigarettes.
“The minister accepts that measures like these ‘will go some way to alleviating the risks of such conduct’,” the court documents read.
“However, she adopts the position that risky behaviour in the form of cigarette-sharing would increase if the prohibition were to be lifted. The correct position is exactly [the] reverse: the prohibition added to the incidence of risky behaviour because it encourages the growth of [the] illicit market for cigarettes at exorbitant prices.”
Batsa is set to use expert evidence to poke holes into the scientific literature which informed Dlamini-Zuma’s decision to ban cigarettes sales.