“The medical literature (…) provided the minister with sufficient reasons to promulgate rules which prohibit the sale of tobacco,” ruled the High Court of the capital Pretoria in its judgment.
The ban on the sale of cigarettes entered into force on March 27 at the same time as the strict confinement imposed on South Africans to stop the spread of Covid-19.
This decision immediately aroused the frenzy of smokers, industrialists and traders in the sector, who vainly negotiated the resumption of their activities.
By easing containment measures, President Cyril Ramaphosa lifted the ban on the sale of alcohol on June 1, but maintained that of cigarettes “because of the health risks linked to smoking”.
At a hearing before the High Court of the capital Pretoria earlier this month, the Independent and Fair Association of Tobacco (Fita) asked for the measure to be annulled in its eyes “irrational” from the government.
“It is difficult to imagine a more draconian measure than this total prohibition, which (…) caused so much harm”, had argued the lawyer of the Fita, Arnold Subel.
On behalf of the state, his colleague Marumo Moerane justified the prohibition by arguing that it was “perfectly clear that smokers are more likely than others to develop a severe form of Covid-19”.
The High Court agreed with him entirely on Friday.
“This measure is in our view a rational decision which falls within the scope of the State’s responsibility to protect lives, to stop the spread of Covid-19 and to release the pressure on the country’s health institutions”, she justified.
The ban on the sale of tobacco has already cost more than 300 million rand (15 million euros) in taxes to the state budget, according to the boss of the taxman, Edward Kieswetter.
A separate complaint from the number 1 South African market, the local subsidiary of the giant British American Tobacco, against the government measure is due to be examined in August.
South Africa is officially the country in sub-Saharan Africa most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 118,000 cases, including 2,292 deaths.