Fita submit court papers in preparation for cigarette ban showdown

With government set to head to court on Tuesday 2 June with the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) over the controversial cigarette ban that has grabbed headlines throughout the nationwide lockdown, Fita have accused government of inflating the extent of initial public approval in the ban.

Cooperative Government and tradition Affairs (Cogta) Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that 2 000 people had voiced their agreement with the proposed ban in March 2020, but according to Fita, the documents submitted by government demonstrate that only a small number of those who mentioned cigarettes agreed with the motion. 

Government also saw a late bid to postpone the hearing dismissed by the Pretoria High Court over the weekend, with claims that the matter was no longer urgent tossed out. 

Fita have filed the initial court papers relating to their case and will await the response of government from 3 June. 

‘Public cigarette debate contained very few mentions of a ban’ 

Fita received over 4 000 pages of minutes, health guidelines and other supporting documents from the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) on Saturday 30 May, and have now handed in their opening arguments to the court. 

“Yesterday (Saturday 30 May) we served our Supplementary Notice of Motion and Founding Affidavit on the Respondents as per the Court Order of 12 May 2020,” Fita said in a tweet. 

“We now await the filing of the Respondents’ Answering Affidavit by no later than 3 June 2020.”

According to Fita, of the 2 000 complaints against the sale of tobacco products cited by Dlamini-Zuma, only 1 897 submissions were made, with 66.7% not concerning the ban at all. 

BAT back in the mix 

Their court bid will now be substantiated by a bid by British American Tobacco (Batsa), who have said that their efforts to “constructively engage” with government have thus far been unsuccessful.

Johnny Moloto, Batsa’s head of external affairs, said that the company would reignite their court bid after having previously pulled out of an earlier show of force. 

“The government has decided to maintain the ban on tobacco products under the guise of limiting the spread of OVID-19 while allowing all other previously banned consumer products to go back on sale.

“Given the situation, and the lack of any response from the government, despite our ongoing efforts to engage with them, we are now commencing urgent legal proceedings,” Moloto said.

Batsa said it had received support from Japan Tobacco International and groups and organisations representing the tobacco value chain, including consumers, tobacco farmers and retailers.

Mlungisi Mtshali, a national spokesperson for the department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs said that the legal action in play by Batsa is a continuation of their previous application. 

“This (Batsa legal action) is a continuation of legal action facing the department in terms of the ban on the sale of cigarettes,” said Mtshali.

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