The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) has expressed disappointment over the High Court in Pretoria’s dismissal of its legal challenge against government’s ban on the sale of tobacco products during the lockdown period.

In its ruling, the court said the ban did not have to be “the best nor the most suitable” approach.

The full bench of judges says the medical material and other reports considered by the Cooperative Governance Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma provided her with a firm rational basis to outlaw the sale of tobacco products, which includes cigarettes during lockdown.

FITA Chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni says they are still studying the judgment.

“We are naturally disappointed in the outcome as we were hoping for a positive outcome. And we are quite happy with the arguments put forward by our legal team. We’re studying the judgment as we speak, and we will make an announcement as to whether we will appeal the ruling by the full bench of the High Court.”

In the video below, Tax Justice South Africa’s founder Yusuf Abramjee reacts to the ruling:

Civil rights’ organisation Tax Justice South Africa has described the ruling as surprising.

Earlier, the organisation announced that it had joined British American Tobacco South Africa’s bid to have the ban lifted.

Yusuf Abramjee of Tax Justice South Africa says they are confident FITA has a strong case and that an appeal will overturn the ruling. He once again called upon government to lift the ban.

He says, “Every day the ban continues the crooks are becoming firmly entrenched and enriched. During the three months, or so of the lockdown, decent South Africans have lost more than R3 billion in excise duties alone. That money is desperately needed to fight the crisis crippling our country.”

British American Tobacco SA’s case is scheduled for 5 August in the High Court in Cape Town.

FITA’s Mnguni says in principle, they support any attempt to reverse the banning of the sale of tobacco products.

“Ultimately we support anyone that is bringing any application that deals with the lifting of the cigarette ban, so we supportive of anyone that brings such an application cause we feel the ban of the sale of cigarettes is arbitrary and is unjust and it infringes on many rights and interests in as far as people, both smokers and people that are employed by the tobacco industry along the value chain.”

South Africa is now the only country in the world to prohibit the sale of cigarettes as part of its coronavirus lockdown regulations after Botswana lifted its ban this week.

SABC News has been told that smokers are now paying R100, on average, for a packet of 20 illegal cigarettes, which normally cost between R20 and R30.

Legal cigarettes are allegedly much more expensive.