Cigarette ban: Fita confirms date for High Court hearing

The legal bid by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) to have the government's lockdown ban on cigarette sales overturned will be heard by the full bench of the Pretoria High Court on Tuesday 9 June and Wednesday 10 June, the association has confirmed.

Fita had been hoping the case would go ahead in the early part of June, but has been awaiting a directive from the court to confirm the dates.

An elated Fita said:

"We once again wish to thank all those who have sent their well wishes and supported us throughout this period."

It did not elaborate further in its short statement.

Four thousand pages of documents

This follows the delivery to Fita on Wednesday, 27 May of 4 000 pages of documents from the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) detailing its deliberations on cigarette sales during lockdown. The expectation is that the documents will disclose the minutes of the NCCC meeting which initially supported, but later overturned, the sale of tobacco during a move to Level 4 lockdown.

After receiving the NCCC documents, Fita's legal team finalised supplementary papers to be served on the respondents by no later than Friday, 29 May. The primary respondents are listed as 'President of the Republic of South Africa' and the 'Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs'.

NCCC was previously ordered to hand over documents

Fita, which mainly represents smaller producers, had been awaiting the documents after the NCCC was previously ordered by the high court to provide a 'record of decision' which showed how it came to the decision to impose the ban in the first place. The NCCC missed the court-imposed delivery deadline of Tuesday, 26 May but complied the following morning.

Fita chair Sinenhlanhla Mnguni has placed on record that, whether or not government lifted the cigarette sales ban, Fita would proceed with the case.

According to the association's lawyers, there is no basis in law for a sweeping interpretation of the Disaster Management Act which allows for cigarettes to be banned for 'health reasons'.