Smoking unbanned at the University of Pretoria

The University of Pretoria has retracted a statement that it issued last week where it banned smoking at its campuses and other facilities.

“This was based on what we believed was a statement from the [office of the Minister of Higher Education]. This turned out not to be the case and I hereby retract the notice and apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

The university said that it issued its original notice in the best interest of students and staff, as it takes their health and well-being seriously.

“We urge everyone to continue to comply with the safety precautions that were put in place on the different campuses and in our residences,” the university said.

On Friday, the University of Pretoria issued a notice banning smoking at all its facilities, including campuses and residences, for the duration of the ban on the sale of tobacco products in South Africa.

It said that this was in accordance with a notice received from the Department of Higher Education and in line with the directives from the National Command Council.

When MyBroadband asked the Department of Higher Education and Training, Science and Innovation (DHET/SI) for comment, spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi said: “In terms of the NCC Regulations, cigarettes are prohibited under level 3.”

Mnisi previously confirmed that smoking at universities and TVET colleges would be prohibited for the duration of South Africa’s ban on tobacco products.

When asked about the University of Pretoria’s latest statement, Mnisi provided the following feedback:

The Department will be guided by the NCC Regulations on the issue.  However, note that smoking in public places is ordinarily not permitted even outside of COVID-19.

Ban on sale of tobacco products

When South Africa began its COVID-19 lockdown on 27 March, the National Coronavirus Command Council banned the sale of tobacco products along with alcohol and other non-essential goods.

The government extended the lockdown and implemented its “risk-adjusted strategy for economic activity” with five COVID-19 alert levels, but did not allow citizens to restock on items deemed non-essential, including cigarettes and alcohol.

Even after the move to alert level 3, which allowed alcohol to be sold for home consumption, the sale of tobacco products remains banned.

If you are convicted of selling cigarettes during the lockdown, you face a possible fine, imprisonment for up to six months, or both.

The Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) and British American Tobacco South Africa have taken legal action against the cigarette ban imposed by the government.

Among the concerns raised is that the continued ban on smoking has allowed the trade of illegal cigarettes to flourish in South Africa. They argue that the ban has not encouraged people to quit smoking, but to buy unregulated, untaxed cigarettes at inflated prices from illicit traders.

In response to Parliamentary questions, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the decision to prohibit the sale of cigarettes was based on a variety of factors.

“At this stage, it is difficult to determine when the ban on the sale of tobacco and related products will be lifted,” he said.

Ramaphosa said that this decision would depend on factors including the progression of the disease in South Africa, the readiness of local health systems, and the “evolving knowledge on the nature and impact of the virus itself”.

Now read: The curious case of smoking and COVID-19

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Smoking unbanned at the University of Pretoria