Smokers rejoiced when President Ramaphosa announced that the sale of cigarettes would be permitted once alert level 4 kicked in.
Then, last night, the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, dropped the bomb that the government would be going back on that decision based on “public comments”.
This unforeseen U-turn, alongside the proposed curfew, has raised concerns about the level of power wielded by the Command Council.
Over to TimesLIVE for more on how Dlamini-Zuma justified the new regulations.
She insisted that the strict measures in place to combat Covid-19 were not “draconian” — and that the decision to extend the ban on tobacco was guided by science.
She went on to say that 2 000 people had written in to protest the sale of cigarettes.
I’d like to point out that smokers, under the impression that we’d be able to buy ciggies from Friday, didn’t write in because we assumed that there was no reason to.
Dlamini-Zuma said when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced last week that cigarette sales would be allowed under the reduced restrictions, he “spoke for the collective”.
And now, she said, the collective had decided that the ban should remain in place.
She didn’t specify who the “collective was”, or why they suddenly changed their minds, but speculation abounds on social media.
People have been sharing this photo from 2017 of Dlamini-Zuma with renowned tobacco smuggler Adriano Mazzotti:
Mazzotti allegedly supported Dlamini-Zuma financially in her presidential campaign – read more on that here.
Back to Dlamini-Zuma from last night:
“Furthermore, cigarettes pose a great risk to lives and health of smokers and those who surround them who are affected by second hand smoke. Covid-19 is a pulmonary disease, meaning that it attacks the lungs. Tobacco consumption affects the respiratory system thus initiating most illnesses which affect the lungs,” it said.
Another argument peddled by Dlamini-Zuma, that the motion of smoking (hand to mouth), or sharing of cigarettes, could aid the spread of the virus, holds little purchase when one considers other products that could arguably be risky by the same standards.
Packets of crisps, soft drinks, and other junk food, for example, pose health risks (diabetes, heart disease, obesity), are often shared (multiple hands in one packet of chips), and involve hand-to-mouth consumption.
Despite ordering the country “to listen” and act accordingly, Dlamini-Zuma and the rest of the government are already facing challenges.
News24 reports that The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA), who initially withdrew their threat to take legal action against the government when the ban was lifted, is now launching an urgent application to oppose the continued regulations against tobacco products.
“We will be consulting with our attorneys and senior counsel at 08:30 [on Thursday], and finalising our court application during the day to be served on the government as soon as reasonably possible,” he said.
A petition calling on the government to lift the ban on the sale of cigarettes has spread like wildfire, and had well in excess of 300 000 signatures at the time of writing.
Finally, can we take a moment for the other elephant in the room – the weird and seemingly arbitrary period in which people are allowed to exercise?
6AM to 9AM is usually when parents are getting kids ready for school or gearing up for the workday.
Need I point out that a three-hour limit is, furthermore, a surefire way to ensure that every jogger and cyclist in the country will be on the road at the same time. A few hours in the evening, during a second window for limited exercise, would perhaps space things out.
One can’t help questioning how the Command Council comes to its decisions.
At the very least, we should be given more insight into the decision-making process.
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