The cigarette ban in South Africa has been questioned again, after the government admitted that smokers are “less likely to be infected” with coronavirus.
The cigarette ban in South Africa has been a subject of contention ever since the first lockdown restrictions were enforced at the end of March. Along with the alcohol prohibition, the cigarette ban has created a massive and highly lucrative black market, while both harming businesses and reducing tax revenue.
It has also revealed the kinks in the armour that is the facade of a unified ANC, with Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s “overruling” of President Ramaphosa’s reversal on the ban showing that the decision-making processes in the government are vague and that public health has become politicised.
Now, however, there is no semblance of legitimacy on the cigarette ban after the government admitted that smokers are actually less likely to be infected by COVID-19, compared to non-smokers. The admission has been uncovered in the government’s defence against British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA), who are currently taking them to court over the unconstitutionality of the cigarette ban.
The government released “medical literature on which the respondents (government) rely”, which included a clinical study published in the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
The February 2020 study by Zhang et al, entitled ‘Clinical characteristics of 140 patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan, China’, as reported by News24, examined 140 COVID-19 positive patients in Wuhan, China. It’s results show that smokers were more likely to be severely affected by COVID-19, with “more smokers among the severe than among the non-severe cases.”
However, citing this study also meant that government would have conceded another finding in the paper, which finds that, because 27.7% of people in China smoke, that smokers are less likely to contract the disease in the first place.
“Zhang et al conclude that ‘the outcome of SARS-CoV-2 infection in smokers may be more severe’, even though smoking populations were less likely to be infected,” read the government’s court statement.
The government referred to another research paper found in Lancet, which found in an analysis of 191 people infected with COVID-19 that smokers made up 9% of the 54 patients that died and only 4% of the 137 that survived. However, once again, the numbers didn’t actually skew in the government’s favour and found that people who don’t smoke are almost three times more likely to contract COVID-19 than their smoker counterparts, taking into consideration China’s smoking population.
The final defence in the government’s case against BATSA came in the form of contact tracing. It cited findings that people who were buying cigarettes during lockdown were more likely to contract the virus through their purchase of cigarettes.
“176.1 The percentage of participants who came into close contact with someone outside their home, by shaking hands, hugging or kissing, was significantly higher for those who were able to buy cigarettes during lockdown (26.2%) than those who were not (9.8%).”
However, yet again, the government failed to account for the fact that the 26.2% contact comes from illegal cigarette purchases and would simply not exist if smokers could buy cigarettes legally, while buying their groceries and other goods.
The cigarette ban in South Africa seems to have lost all legitimacy and the government seems to have no legs to stand on after shooting itself in the foot by citing the aforementioned studies.