28 June 2020
Loni Prinsloo and John Bowker: MSN
South Africa’s government won a legal battle challenging a ban on tobacco sales in the country that was imposed in late March as part of lockdown rules, meaning stores won’t be able to sell cigarettes until further notice.
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had “a firm rational basis” to include the prohibition of cigarettes in regulations designed to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, the High Court in Pretoria ruled on Friday. Adequate medical evidence exists linking smoking and more severe forms of Covid-19 to justify the move, according to the judgment.
“This in our view is a properly considered rational decision intended to assist the state in complying with its responsibilities of protecting lives and thus curbing the spread of the Covid-19 virus and preventing a strain on the country’s health-care facilities,” the court said.
The ban has emerged as one of the more controversial aspects of South Africa’s ongoing lockdown to contain the coronavirus. The restrictions remain in place even after the retail of all other goods have been reinstated. That includes alcohol, which went back on sale for four days per week from June 1. South Africa has adopted a phased approach to reopening the economy, considering sectors on a case-by-case basis.
The legal claim was brought by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association, which represents smaller local manufacturers, and was dismissed with costs.
British American Tobacco Plc, which sells Peter Stuyvesant and Dunhill cigarettes and says it has a 78% share of the legal market, initiated its own legal proceedings alongside Japan Tobacco Inc. late last month. That case, which was initially scheduled to be heard in Cape Town next week, has been postponed until August.
FITA said that tobacco should be declared essential due to its addictive nature, an argument the court rejected.
“Simply because a good is addictive it does not necessarily follow that it is therefore necessary for human survival or required for basic human functionality,” the ruling said.
The government scored a second legal victory in the High Court in Cape Town, which dismissed a challenge to the validity of the lockdown rules that was filed by eight individuals on the grounds that they were inconsistent with the constitution.
The inconvenience and discontent the regulations caused had to be weighed against the imperative to save lives, and were considered justified under the circumstances, Judge Rosheni Allie ruled on Friday.
More than 100 other challenges to the legality of the rules and the nation’s Disaster Management Act, which underpins them, are still pending.
South Africa has had 124,590 confirmed coronavirus cases so far, the most in Africa, and 2,340 people who contracted the disease have died. The number of infections have surged since the start of the month, when the government eased curbs to allow millions of people to return to work.