The Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) has confirmed that they will continue with their legal action against the ban on cigarette and tobacco product sales, as there is no clarity on whether the ban will be lifted when parts of the country go into level three lockdown.
This follows Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on Wednesday evening that restrictions in parts of the country will be eased to a level three lockdown at the end of May.
This announcement will not derail Fita’s court application, chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni tells Food For Mzansi.
“It is difficult to give a clear answer at this point, but as it stands we will still be proceeding with our court application to get the appropriate relief in as far as lifting the ban on the sale of cigarettes.”
Mnguni says that there is no clarity about the status of the sales ban under level three. The
organisation, which represents 80% of the legitimate tobacco industry, also holds that the sales ban should never have happened.
“Our argument really is as far as the sale of cigarettes and the prohibition thereof, under level five and level four, should never have been in place in the first instance, so that is our challenge and that is what we will be preceding on,” he says.
“If there is a potential likelihood that we may revert to levels four or five, that is something we will be seeking clarity on from the courts. There may also be room for discussions with government as far as this is concerned.”
Meanwhile, tobacco farmers have rejoiced at confirmation from government that exports and production in the industry can once more resume.
The confirmation was made as part of an exchange of documents in the pending legal case between the FITA and the government. It was confirmed that the export and production of tobacco products (up to 30% employment capacity) falls under agro-processing and are indeed allowed as part of the level four lockdown regulations announced on 29 April.
Farmers have welcomed the news. “There is nothing greater than hearing such news,” says tobacco farmer Shadrack Sibisi.
Sibisi is also the chairperson of the Black Tobacco Farmers Association (BTFA). The organisation had initially planned also to pursue legal action against government and argued that the decision by the national coronavirus command council lacked clarity. Farmers in the industry have suffered without this income, he says.
“Without the tobacco industry then we would suffer.”
“For any business to survive there must be a viable market, of which we do have one. When you look at the situation as it is in the country at the moment, a lot of people are out of work, but things are turning around for the better and we hope it will stay that way,” Sibisi adds.
- This story has been updated with FITA’s confirmation that the legal battle against the cigarette ban is still proceeding.