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Govt on tobacco sales ban: We had a duty to be proactive

Lawyers for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said although the body of knowledge around the virus was increasing, action had to be taken on the basis of what was known about the risks of smoking.

FILE: Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Picture: GCIS

JOHANNESBURG - Government has defended its decision to ban the sale of tobacco products during the national lockdown, saying it had the duty to be proactive and swift in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legal arguments were heard in the Pretoria High Court where the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) challenged lockdown regulation 27 which prohibits the sale of the products.

Lawyers for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said although the body of knowledge around the virus was increasing, action had to be taken on the basis of what was known.

Advocate Marumo Moerane told the court that any measure taken by Cabinet directed at lowering the COVID-19 infection rate was rational.

He argued that the Constitution required the executive to take action as it did not have the luxury of conducting inquiries that would take time when dealing with a pandemic.

The court has heard from Fita that the decision to ban the sale of tobacco products was not based on evidence or facts as no conclusive studies were presented proving that smokers suffered from severe forms of the COVID-19 disease – as government has advanced.

Moerane argued that by not prohibiting the sale of the products, government would have acted irrationally.

“When the decision maker has considered the matter and come to the conclusion that restricting the sale in an effort to lower the number of people smoking would achieve a favourable result.”

The court proceedings have been adjourned, with the full bench saying it was cognisant of the urgency of the matter and would email the judgment to the parties when ready.