‘Nothing sinister’ behind renewed cigarette ban, says Dlamini-Zuma ahead of court case

There is “nothing sinister” behind the state’s decision to renew the ban on the sale of tobacco products under Level 4 of the lockdown, according to Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

The minister last week deposited an affidavit ahead of the start of a court case between the state and the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association. The association, whose members include cigarette makers Carnilinx and Gold Leaf Tobacco, is challenging the state’s decision to retain the ban on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products. 

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.

FITA wants to compel the government to reintroduce the sale of tobacco under Level 4 by having cigarettes and tobacco declared permitted goods. The association is also demanding access to minutes of meetings and documents that informed the decision to retain the ban. The case is expected to start on Tuesday. 

In her affidavit, filed in Pretoria on Friday, Dlamini-Zuma said that there was nothing “sinister” about the decision to renew the ban.

This comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a televised address on April 23, initially approved the sale of tobacco products under Level 4. Six days after Ramaphosa made his announcement, Dlamini-Zuma announced that the sale of tobacco products would not be allowed.

In her affidavit, the minister said she would explain the process through which Regulation 27 – which prohibited the sale of tobacco products  – was promulgated in more detail in a future court filing. 

“For present purposes, however, I emphasise that the decision to promulgate the regulation was taken after careful consideration, not only of the submissions received, but also the relevant medical literature,” she said. 

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

The minister said it was not the case that she and the president were “somehow at odds over this issue”.

“After the President’s initial announcement was made, further consideration was given to the issue in the light of submissions received and medical evidence – and a different position ultimately adopted.”

She did not say what medical evidence the state relied on.

“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.”

Dlamini-Zuma added that the minutes of NCCC meetings are “classified as secret in terms of the Protection of Information Act.”

“Further, I am advised and submit that such minutes are privileged from disclosure in legal proceedings, as they are protected by what is known as ‘public interest privilege'”.

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