South African president defends ban on tobacco sale


President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday that the government’s decision to extend a ban on tobacco sale was based on “careful consideration and discussion.”

“A decision like this is bound to be controversial, but it is wrong to suggest that there are ministers or a president doing and saying whatever they want on this matter,” Ramaphosa said in his weekly presidential address.

He was responding to growing public complaints on the government’s decision to extend the prohibition on the sale of tobacco products as the country moved from level five restrictions to level four.

The government imposed the ban on March 27 as part of a level-five nationwide lockdown.

On April 23, Ramaphosa promised that cigarette sales would be permitted during level four, as based on the view of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC).

However, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma announced last week that the ban on tobacco sale would continue even when the country moved from level five to level four on May 1. She cited scientific evidence that the conditions of smokers infected with COVID-19 are more likely to deteriorate.

Dlamini-Zuma has been under attack for reversing Ramaphosa’s decision. British American Tobacco (BAT) South Africa has threatened to lodge an urgent court application against Dlamini-Zuma if she fails to review and set aside the ban by 10:00 pm on May 4.

Ramaphosa, however, voiced support for Dlamini-Zuma in his Monday address, saying “this was a collective decision and the public statements by both myself and the minister were done on behalf of, and mandated by, the collective I lead.”

The NCCC reconsidered its position on tobacco “after careful consideration and discussion,” said Ramaphosa.

As a result, the regulations ratified by the cabinet and announced by Dlamini-Zuma on April 29 extended the prohibition, Ramaphosa said.

Every regulation the government has put in place has been carefully considered, he noted.

Along the way there has been consultation with medical experts, various constituencies and different industries, said Ramaphosa.

As there is still a great deal about the epidemiology of the virus that is unknown, it is better to err on the side of caution than to pay the devastating price of a lapse in judgment in future, he said.

While there are differing views on some of the decisions that have been taken – and in some instances these have polarized opinion – the government is making every effort to act in a way that advances the rights to life and dignity of all the people, the president said.

He pledged that the government will continue to listen to the concerns of South Africans and is prepared to make adjustments that balance people’s concerns about the challenges they face with the need to save lives.

“At this difficult time, our collective energies must be focused on ensuring that health and life is preserved, that the delivery of food, water, health care, social security and social support is not disrupted,” he said. Enditem


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