Cigarette sales: EC government warns of disaster if ban is lifted

A top official at the Eastern Cape health department has backed national government’s view that tobacco sales could have grave consequences on the public health system’s response against COVID-19.

Cigarette sales have been prohibited since South Africa went into lockdown in late March, a regulation which has been among the more contentious out of the measures introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Smoking and COVID-19 

Government’s reasoning behind the ban is that it’s safeguarding public health, as smokers could display more severe symptoms of the virus, thus straining health resources.

Dr Thobile Mbengashe – head of the Eastern Cape Department of Health – is of a similar view, and says unbanning tobacco could take the efforts made against COVID-19 a few steps back.

“The banning of tobacco in restaurants, many people have stopped smoking. Our worry is that winter is coming. Flu is gonna come and tobacco is going to irritate chests. Your chest and COVID-19 on top of that can make things worse than they are. It’s going to crowd the system,” says Mbengashe, as quoted by SABC.

Dr Thobile Mbengashe, Eastern Cape Department of Health

Conflicting reports over the link between smoking and the coronavirus

While government’s stance has its supporters, it also has its fair share of dissenting voices.

The matter surrounding the cigarette ban is set to be heard at the High Court in the coming week, after the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) filed an application questioning the legality of the regulations.

Earlier in the week, Fita chairperson Sinenhlanla Mnguni questioned the link between smoking and COVID-19.

“There are conflicting medical reports – as stated by the responses and our own experts – as studies have shown that there is no casual link between COVID-19 and smoking and certain countries are now experimenting at whether nicotine can be used as a solution,” he told Radio 702. “But again there is nothing conclusive.”

Sinenhlanhla Mnguni, Fita chairperson

The case between Fita and Cabinet is expected to be heard from Tuesday, 9 June.

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