The Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) says a ruling by the courts that the five-month long cigarette ban during South Africa’s earlier lockdown days was unconstitutional, is too little, too late.
In a statement on Monday, the association noted and welcomed the judgment of the full bench of the Western Cape High Court on Friday, which held that regulation 45 of the lockdown level 3 regulations did not withstand constitutional scrutiny.
“The court further found Regulation 45 to be neither necessary nor that it furthered the objectives set out in section 27 (2) of the Disaster Management Act,” said FITA’s chairperson, Sinenhlanhla Mnguni.
“This of course was one of the arguments advanced by FITA in its challenging of the ban on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco-related products, which the full bench of the North Gauteng High Court erred in finding to be necessary,” said Mnguni.
He went on to say: “In as much as the ruling of the Western Cape High Court is welcomed by all in the industry, it is rather unfortunate that industry role players were left with no alternative but to approach the courts as government, in a constitutional democracy, blatantly refused to engage with the industry as a whole at all prior to and throughout the duration of the ban on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco-related products, which lasted some five months in total.”
FITA maintained that the ban resulted in the exponential growth of the illicit trade in cigarettes, “with many criminal syndicates who were involved in other criminal activities getting attracted to this practice as a result of the apparent relative ease of the smuggling of cigarettes through our porous borders”.
Mnguni said the illicit tobacco trade had become increasingly lucrative and dangerous.
“We had on many occasions warned government that prolonging the irrational cigarette ban would only serve to encourage these criminal elements who have now clearly grown their resources and networks,” he said.
“This of course has a significant impact on the legitimate players in the tobacco industry and those they employ along the value chain as it is virtually impossible to compete with these syndicates who are flooding the South African market with their contraband.”