Millions of smokers in South Africa have had their hopes crushed once more on Sunday evening, after President Ramaphosa confirmed that cigarettes would not go on sale during Level 3 of lockdown. The country will officially move to the next phase of the restrictions on Monday 1 June.
THE STORY SO FAR: CIGARETTES WILL BE BANNED DURING LEVEL 3 OF LOCKDOWN
A very complicated history is being created, here. Cigarettes were first outlawed for purchase on Friday 27 May – when our lockdown first began 59 days ago. Initially taking cigs off the shelves for three weeks, Level 5 restrictions were extended for another two weeks, as tobacco-enthusiasts started running low on supplies.
Google searches for ‘smoking rooibos’ and ‘homemade cigarettes’ went through the roof in South Africa, before light appeared at the end of the tunnel. Ramaphosa confirmed that the country would move into Level 4 restrictions at the end of April – and he even stated that the cigarette ban would be lifted ‘within the week’.
However, the now infamous address from Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the National Coronavirus Command Centre (NCCC) took place just a few days later, and the minister made a shock announcement about pulling ciggies from the stores. The prohibition on the tobacco trade was to continue until Level 3, it was claimed.
WHEN MIGHT CIGARETTES GO ON SALE AGAIN IN SOUTH AFRICA?
The announcement sparked various legal challenges, a furious political reaction and even drew the wrath of an increasingly frustrated public. Dlamini-Zuma’s claim that ‘2 000 submissions’ – which rallied against the sale of cigarettes – influenced her decision have been hotly contested in recent days. In fact, it has been rumoured that NDZ doesn’t want to lift the restrictions on smoking until Level 1 is in place.
The illicit market for smokes has been booming, and people have been buying packs at highly inflated prices just to get their fix. The debate rumbled on, but it was eventually left to Cyril Ramaphosa to clear the air on Sunday.
LEVEL 3: THE DEBATE PROMISES TO RUMBLE ON
The president told the nation that tobacco products – including items for vaping and yes, any kind of ‘zol’ – remain banned for the entire duration of Level 3. However, don’t expect this to be the end of things.
The Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) have a date in court with the government on Tuesday. They are seeking to over the cigarette ban in its entirety, rendering the lockdown guidance null and void.