The sale of tobacco and other related products has been banned in South Africa since March 26, when lockdown first began. Three months later, the country is the only one to maintain the ban, despite much criticism.

Botswana joined South Africa in instilling a cigarette ban when their lockdown began. The country lifted the ban on June 24. However, new regulations state that no one may smoke in an enclosed, indoor designated non-smoking area of any private or public workplace, or in a private place in the country. Smoking is allowed in a designated area if:

– it is sealed off from the rest of the premises

– a functioning extractor fan is installed in the area

– social distancing protocols are observed

In South Africa, the illegal cigarette trade is booming amid the ban. Two major cigarette companies have filed to challenge the constitutionality of the ban.

Pretoria High Court is expected to soon rule on a challenge against the ban brought forth by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita). According to FITA, the ban on tobacco products is “invalid and unconstitutional” and has had an extremely detrimental effect on smokers as well as on the economy.

British American Tobacco (BAT) is also challenging the constitutionality of the ban in court, which will be heard on August 4-5. Business Day reports the case was delayed from June 30 to August 4 after state attorney Melanie Faure requested more time to consider the latest court papers containing substantial new matters.

In an affidavit filed with the high court in Pretoria on May 27, Co-operative Governance & Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma explained the reasons behind the highly controversial tobacco ban.

Dlamini-Zuma explains in the court papers that the temporary ban during lockdown was put in place to protect human life and health, as well as to reduce the potential strain on the healthcare system. Dlamini-Zuma adds that the ban could lead to many young and old smokers to quit the habit. She also argues that there are a number of behavioural risks connected to tobacco use that could heighten COVID-19 transmission.

According to the World Health Organisation, a review of studies by public health experts found that smokers are more likely to develop severe disease with COVID-19, compared to non-smokers.

“COVID-19 is an infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs. Smoking impairs lung function making it harder for the body to fight off coronaviruses and other diseases,” writes WHO.

“Tobacco is also a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes which put people with these conditions at higher risk for developing severe illness when affected by COVID-19. Available research suggests that smokers are at higher risk of developing severe disease and death.”

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