The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) is challenging the ban on the sale of cigarettes during the nationwide lockdown, and has decided to take the issue to court.

In a statement, Fita states that while they support the mechanisms the government decides is necessary to maintain national order amid the lockdown, the uncertainty of the current restrictions and how long the lockdown will last has led them to making the drastic decision to go to court to appeal their case.

“The simple truth is that the current situation cannot be endured for much longer by the various role players along the tobacco industry value chain without severe consequences for all,” argues Fita in a statement. “This includes farm workers, factory workers, informal traders, and the many other ordinary South Africans who rely on the tobacco industry for a living, and whose livelihoods are currently at stake.”

Fita also addressed the crime that has risen as a result of the cigarette ban. Last week, a man stabbed two shopkeepers, murdering one in the process, for refusing to sell him cigarettes.

According to Fita, the illegal tobacco trade is flourishing under the lockdown, which is a detriment to the tobacco industry and SARS, who will lose an estimate of R1.5-billion a month on excise alone with the ban in place.

Fita is requesting that government authorise the distribution and sale of cigarettes at places designated for people to purchase essential goods. This, Fita argues, will give the South African economy a necessary boost and quell unnecessary crime in which people act out in desperation. They are willing to go to court to argue their case.

“We have previously voiced our opinion on government’s decision to ban the sale of cigarettes and other goods which were classified as non-essential during the lockdown period. It certainly left us with a feeling of unjustness that no reason was ever advanced to industry on the rationale behind this decision. There was also no engagement with industry whatsoever in relation to this issue, as was done with many other key economic sectors according to public announcements made by government officials.”

“We therefore regret that we have had to take such a step however, we feel that government has left us with no other possible alternative.”

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