A petition to lift the ban on cigarette sales in South Africa has received over 400,000 signatures from people who feel their rights are being infringed upon.

The online petition states that “as law abiding citizens our rights have been taken away under the pretext of the pandemic”.

It gained momentum after Minister of Cooperative Governance Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma backtracked on a previous proposal to unban cigarette sales from 1 May.

Dlamini-Zuma defended the decision, saying 2,000 people who engaged the government were against the sale of cigarettes under level 4 of the lockdown.

She added that cigarettes are often shared in poorer communities, which will increase the transmission of COVID-19.

The backlash online was swift, with many commentators arguing it simply encourages the illegal cigarette trade.

“Illicit cigarettes are flooding the market at massively inflated prices, delivering no tax to the country and actively increasing the movement of people,” the petition argues.

It added that the financial impact of the cigarette ban is also devastating, as it costs the country R35 million a day in lost excise revenues.

Legal action looming

The Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) said the regulations have resulted in criminals involved in the illicit trade of cigarettes taking advantage of a desperate market.

The knock-on effect is a loss in tax revenues which are desperately needed to fight the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

FITA previously urged the government to reconsider the prohibition on the sale of cigarettes and authorise their sale in retail stores, spaza shops, and petrol stations.

FITA chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni said they will now fight the government’s ban on cigarette sales in court.

He previously said cigarette sales will save jobs, increase tax revenue, stimulate the economy, and decrease the psychological impact of the lockdown on people.

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