It is said that to force South Africans’ smokers to give up tobacco “cold turkey” was an act of cruelty on the part of cooperative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
This was revealed by the counsel for the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) told the North Gauteng High Court, Pretoria on Wednesday.
Subel said the minister had displayed complete disregard for the enormous emotional and physiological strain imposed on those who smoked in an “already stressful enough” situation created by the coronavirus crisis, and its impact on the lives of citizens.
He added that there was no realistic prospect of people quitting smoking, as confirmed by surveys on the subject, and that this was where the minister’s basis for the continued, indefinite ban imposed as part of lockdown regulations came apart.
Unless Dlamini Zuma could eradicate the habit, she could not achieve her stated aim of preventing the country’s health services being overrun by a hypothetical one percent of all smokers presenting with Covid-19 symptoms requiring intensive care treatment.
Dlamini Zuma would moreover need to satisfy the court that the benefits of giving up smoking materialised fast enough to substantially ease the feared burden on the health care service.
“There must be a provable reduction on smoking that will achieve the effect the minister wants to achieve here,” he said, or her rationale for the ban disintegrated.
Subel argued that the court need not try to resolve the dilemma of whether there was scientific evidence that smoking made for more severe Covid-19 infection or raised the risk of death, because the minister failed at the first hurdle of arguing that the ban would stop people smoking and end the illicit tobacco trade by eradicating demand.
“It might in her world be an answer to stop people smoking, but that is in a make-believe world.
Fita has asked the court to set aside the ban, which has been in place since March 27.
It had asked for the minutes of the meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council where it was decided to retain the ban after president Cyril Ramaphosa announced explicitly on April 23 that it would be lifted one week later.
Dlamini Zuma opposed that, saying the council was a cabinet structure and therefore its discussions were classified.