The government has for the first time published its comprehensive case for banning the sale of tobacco products during the lockdown, saying emerging research shows smoking leads to more severe cases of Covid-19.
The state laid out its arguments in court papers filed on Wednesday in a case brought against it by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association, which wants the ban lifted.
FITA served government with court papers in early May to challenge the state’s decision to retain the ban on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco product sales under Level 4 of the lockdown. When SA moves to Level 3 from next month, cigarettes will still be banned.
In the state’s latest filing Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, says the ban was implemented to protect public health and decrease the potential strain on SA’s health system.
Dlamini-Zuma argues that, while Covid-19 is a relatively new disease, early studies support the view that using tobacco products increases not only the risk of catching the disease but also the risk of contracting a more serious form of the disease.
“This, in turn, increases strain on the public health system, by increasing the number of people who will need access to resources such as intensive care unit beds and ventilators.”
The minister also argues that the ban appears to have been successful in cutting cigarette use.
“A report by the Human Sciences Research Council indicates that 88% of smokers were not able to buy cigarettes during level 5 lockdown, suggesting that the temporary ban was effective in reducing access to cigarettes and usage thereof”.
A UCT study from mid-May, meanwhile, found the ban had not been successful in cutting usage and was creating a lasting illicit tobacco market. The survey found that 90% of respondents had bought cigarettes during the lockdown.