Government wins court case over decision to ban tobacco sales

South Africa’s government won a legal battle over a ban on the sale of tobacco in the country that was introduced in March as part of lockdown rules, meaning cigarettes will remain unavailable in stores until further notice.

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had “a firm rational basis” to include the prohibition of cigarettes in regulations designed to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, the High Court in Pretoria ruled on Friday. Adequate medical evidence exists linking smoking and more severe forms of Covid-19 to justify the move, according to the judgment.

“This in our view is a properly considered rational decision intended to assist the state in complying with its responsibilities of protecting lives and thus curbing the spread of the Covid-19 virus and preventing a strain on the country’s health-care facilities,” the court said.

The ban on tobacco sales has emerged as one of the more controversial aspects of South Africa’s ongoing lockdown to contain the coronavirus. The restrictions remain in place even after the retail of all other goods have been reinstated. That includes alcohol, which went back on sale for four days per week from June 1. South Africa has adopted a phased approach to reopening the economy, considering sectors on a case-by-case basis.

The legal claim was brought by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association, which represents smaller local manufacturers, and was dismissed with costs.

British American Tobacco Plc, which sells Peter Stuyvesant and Dunhill cigarettes and says it has a 78% share of the legal market, initiated its own legal proceedings alongside Japan Tobacco Inc. late last month. The hearing that was to take place in Cape Town next week has been postponed until August.

FITA had argued that tobacco should be declared essential due to its addictive nature, an argument that was rejected by the court.

“Simply because a good is addictive it does not necessarily follow that it is therefore necessary for human survival or required for basic human functionality,” the ruling said.

© 2020 Bloomberg