South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal ruled this week that the government was wrong to ban the sale of cigarettes at the start of the nationwide hard lockdown in March 2020.
The court found that there was no scientific justification for the continued ban on the sale of tobacco products.
Tobacco businesses say they are still recovering from the losses they made during the cigarette ban.
"It's easy to say that I am wrong and I accept that this thing happened but what about the people that suffered? The main thing that they said was that tobacco is non-essential. To be honest with you, it is important like food and drinks because everyone needs nicotine. “ expressed Precious Olyne Mpofu and Lamya Mohamed, the Managers of Tobacco Town.
Tobacco sales were prohibited between 25 March and 17 August 2020 as part of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey suggests that during the time of the ban between 300 million US Dollars and 500 million US dollars were lost in excise taxes on tobacco products while three hundred thousand jobs were lost.
"I feel like banning cigarettes was wrong because tobacco sales play an important part in the South African economy," remarks Oupa Kekana, a cigarette smoker.
Informal cigarette sellers in the streets of Johannesburg such as Nathi Ndlovu believe the government showed limited initiative to financially assist informal tobacco sellers.
"It really messed up my cigarette selling business. I've been trying to recover and the government did not really do anything that can help us," said Ndlovu
The Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association had throughout the hard lockdown said that the ban on cigarette sales is enriching criminal syndicates.
The association has also like British American Tobacco been legally challenging the ban on cigarettes. Sinenhlanhla Mnguni Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association Spokesperson emphasizes that the court ruling has come a little too late for the tobacco industry.
"It comes a bit too late after the ban on the sale of cigarettes was put into place by the government. This is something we said was ill-advised and not backed up by science or any legal principles," says Mnguni
The government had argued that the use of tobacco products during the lockdown increased behavioral risks associated with the transmission of COVID-19, as some smokers share lit cigarettes.