The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) has been urged to hold on to its court action against the ban on the sale of cigarettes until President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation on the easing of lockdown regulations.

The tobacco lobby group, which represents southern African cigarette manufacturers, argues that the ban is “unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid”, and is preparing to challenge the prohibition in court.

Fita had given the government until noon on Tuesday to respond to its demand to have the ban lifted. But the state attorney's office contended that Fita had given Ramaphosa an “extremely short time period” and that they needed time to consult each minister to whom the letter was addressed to.

In its letter to the president and ministers, Fita said there was no reason for imposing the prohibition, and that the allegations made by state officials about the prohibition were ill -founded.

The state attorney's office, however, said there was no basis in law for such a conclusion.

It said the selling of cigarettes was prohibited under the lockdown regulations, which prohibits the sale of any goods other than essential goods.

Cigarettes were not an essential good nor is the sale of cigarettes an essential service, the state attorney said.

“The government sees its principal responsibility in relation to the pandemic to be to slow, and ultimately stop the spread of the coronavirus to save lives. SA must flatten the curve and stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“Limiting the movement of people and ensuring social distancing as far as practically possible during the lockdown period are essential to achieving these outcomes. The prohibition on the sale of cigarettes achieves this,” it said.

The state attorney said should Fita proceed with its urgent application, it would oppose it and seek a costs order against the group.

Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Tuesday evening to announce a R500bn social and economic support package to help the country deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

SA is in the fourth week of a five-week national lockdown, which was imposed in a bid to curb the Covid-19 pandemic. The novel coronavirus has infected more than 3,000 people in SA and killed nearly 60.

The virus has caused panic and fear across the globe and brought economies to a standstill. SA’s lockdown has compounded the country’s own economic and social problems.

Ramaphosa said he would address the nation again on Thursday on measures that will be taken beyond the lockdown to reopen the economy.


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