Fighting the cigarette ban, BATSA’s lawyer has expressed confusion over how South Africans are allowed to be crammed into taxis but not allowed to smoke cigarettes.
British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA) and other tobacco producers, including farmers, have gone to court to oppose the cigarette ban in South Africa, which began when the country first locked down in March. The rationale behind the ban is that the government aims to prevent people that may contract COVID-19 from experiencing the most severe symptoms of the devastating virus. Chief among the advocates for the ban is Minister of Co-Operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. However, the logic behind the ban has been questioned and disproven through research.
Advocate Alfred Cockrell’s submissions to the Western Cape High Court, on BATSA’s behalf have provided perhaps the most compelling argument against the cigarette ban yet, questioning the current lockdown laws, which allow people to spend hours crammed into taxis (which are operating at 100% capacity) but prohibits them from smoking a cigarette when they get home. He also questioned the assertion that the ban has been upheld in the interest of not overburdening the healthcare system and its need for ICU beds.
“She just says to take her word for it and that is not a justified and adequate answer,” he said, according to News24.
“In the ‘old world’ you were entitled as a consumer to buy cigarettes and retailers could sell it. Government did not prohibit the sale of cigarettes then, even if the WHO recommended smokers stop smoking. So, the real question for the minister is why did government not prohibit in the ‘old world’ the sale of cigarettes and why does it do so now? Nowhere does the WHO say it recommends that governments prohibit the sale of cigarettes.
“The argument on behalf of the minister seems to be that, if people cannot buy cigarettes, they won’t consume them, and if they won’t consume cigarettes, the risk of contracting a more severe form of COVID-19 will be avoided and then they won’t occupy ICU beds.
“If ICU beds are being overwhelmed, let the minister tell us that,” he continued. “She does not even tell us how many ICU beds there are in the country. For the minister it was argued that this is a temporary ban and that government is studiously monitoring the situation and that, if the threat to ICU beds is gone, the ban will be lifted. Yet, she has shown nothing to indicate she is monitoring the ICU bed demand.”
“The minister says that, because she does not know exactly what is going to happen, she needs to assume the worst case scenario, but with respect, that does not make the ban a necessary step, especially if you do not know whether those people who quit smoking due to the ban will derive any benefit in terms of COVID-19 by stopping smoking,” argued Cockrell.
“If you don’t know whether quitting smoking is going to prevent people from getting a more severe form of COVID-19, you cannot say it is necessary to require people to stop smoking. So, is it justifiable for the minister to adopt a cautionary approach? We say it is not reasonable and justifiable unless you have the evidence – you cannot simply assume the worst.”