The government’s decision to prohibit the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products during South Africa’s level 4 lockdown has been met with fierce resistance and is likely to be decided in court.

In its proposed lockdown regulations published on Saturday (25 April), government announced that it would allow the sale of tobacco products from 1 May after they were banned as part of the country’s original lockdown regulations.

However, government has since backtracked on this decision, citing a number of complaints that it has received.

In a media briefing on Wednesday evening (29 April), minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that the task team received more than 2,000 complaints from the public and industry stakeholders.

The minister said that the complaints focused on the health risks associated with smoking, which could exacerbate the ongoing health crisis.

“We debated the matter and looked at it and decided we must continue as we are when it comes to cigarettes and tobacco products and we decided not to open the sale,” she said.

She said the reasons are health-related and also how tobacco is shared among people which encourages the spread of the virus.

The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association says it will now fight this decision and has begun consultations with its attorneys on Thursday morning.

“We are consulting with our legal team on a way forward. We are going to court. We are making plans to prepare our legal challenge,” Fita chairperson Sinenhanhla Mnguni said in an interview with SAfm.

“Illicit cigarettes are coming into the country through our borders. Government is losing billions in what could have been used in the fiscus. The illicit traders are gaining momentum,” he said.

He added that South Africans should be able to choose if they want to smoke, or not.

This sentiment has been echoed by online petitions signed by thousands of South Africans which call for the lifting of the ban on cigarettes.

One petition had more than 350,000 signatures at 11h40 on Thursday, with signees arguing that they were not given enough time to prepare for the ban and that it is causing significant economic and social harm.