The North Gauteng High Court will today hear an appeal by the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) against the court’s previous ruling in favour of the government’s ban on tobacco products.
On 26 June 2020, the court dismissed a case filed by FITA which argued that the nationwide ban on the sale of cigarettes was irrational.
In the case which was heard earlier this month, the government argued that smoking could lead to an increase in coronavirus cases and even death.
FITA argued that this is not an issue which is limited to cigarettes.
The court found that there was a rational connection between the ban on tobacco sales and an increased strain on South Africa’s healthcare system.
“We are persuaded by the Minister’s submission that FITA’s argument is misconceived as it ignores the context under which the regulations were promulgated.”
Proceedings began at around 10:00 via Zoom on Wednesday morning, with advocate Arnold Subel arguing the case on behalf of the organisation.
Subel said that while nobody disputed smoking was hazardous to people’s health, the banning of tobacco products is irrational and is based on low-quality evidence.
He also argued that the regulations implemented to ban smoking would not have any significant effect on the prevalence of smoking in South Africa.
After it has heard the parties’ arguments, the court will rule in favour of or against FITA’s appeal against its previous ruling.
“Worrying delay” for BATSA case
British American Tobacco (BATSA) has also filed a case against the ban on the sale of tobacco products, although this has been pushed back until 5 and 6 August.
This is despite BATSA agreeing, on the instructions of the Judge President, with the State President and COGTA Minister, that the case should be heard on 30 June.
The company described the decision not to consider an urgent application to lift the national ban on the sale of tobacco as “inexplicable” and “worrying”.
“Having received the extremely strong replying papers from the applicants, the state president and Cogta have done a total volte-face and now want the matter to be heard on 5 and 6 August – this despite their acknowledgement that it is urgent,” BATSA said.
“This delaying of justice and a resolution of this issue is inexplicable.”
Following this delay, a number of prominent South African companies published an open letter to Cyril Ramaphosa pleading for the cigarette ban to be lifted.
“Whole communities have been torn apart as the ban has extinguished livelihoods that sustain thousands of families across the nation,” the letter said.
“With the stroke of a pen, 11 million previously law-abiding smokers and vapers have been turned into criminals.”
The SABC live stream of the FITA court proceedings is embedded below.