Government has agreed to provide the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association with reasons for maintaining its ban on cigarette and tobacco product sales under level 4 of the lockdown.

The association, whose members include cigarette makers Carnilinx and Gold Leaf Tobacco, had launched an urgent court bid for government to lift a ban on sales of cigarettes and tobacco products during lockdown and to have these products be deemed essential goods.

The association also sought minutes of the meetings in which government made decisions pertaining to the sale of cigarettes. This is related to part A of its application which was set to be heard in court on Tuesday, 12 May.

But in a statement issued on Monday night, FITA said there would no longer be a need to argue part A of the application as it has been provided “a substantial portion of the relief” sought.

Referring to the responding affidavit deposed by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma last week, FITA said that government had agreed to provide the “record of decision and the reasons for the promulgation of regulation 27 of the level 4 regulations as soon as reasonably possible”.

The ban on cigarette and tobacco product sales was instituted at the start of the lockdown on 26 March. President Cyril Ramaphosa on 23 April announced that the ban would be lifted as the country moved to level four of the lockdown. But just days later Dlamini-Zuma said that the ban would remain in place in the interest of health. The minister noted that government had received over 2 000 submissions from the public objecting the sale of cigarettes.

In light of government’s u-turn, FITA then proceeded with its court bid, questioning government’s intent behind the ban, which is why it sought access to minutes of meetings and documents that informed the decision to renew the ban.

In the responding affidavit, the minister said there was “nothing sinister” behind government’s decision to keep enforcing the ban. She indicated that the decision to promulgate the regulation on the ban was taken “after careful consideration”, not only based on submissions received from the public but also “relevant medical literature”.

“It also is a decision that was endorsed by the NCCC [National Coronavirus Command Council] and Cabinet, before the regulations were promulgated,” Dlamini-Zuma said.

“There is nothing sinister in a change of position following a consultative process: in fact, the very nature of consultation is that change may result,” she dded.

FITA said it would now focus on the relief sought in part B of our application – a court declaration that the sale of tobacco products and cigarettes is lawful under the lockdown regulations. No date for this hearing has been determined yet.

The FITA court case is unrelated to proposed legal action by SA’s largest cigarette manufacturer, British American Tobacco South Africa, which was dropped last week.

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