‘RESIST TOBACCO PRESSURE’ Anti-Tobacco Network calls on President Masisi to resist Pressure to lift

By Thuso Motshegwe

Botswana and South Africa are the only countries in the SADC bloc that have banned the sale of tobacco and its as a way of curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus. The position taken by these two nations, has irked tobacco industry, with allegations that some companies already threatening to disinvest from these two countries.

In South Africa, the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) has indicated that it will proceed with legal action regarding the government’s decision to ban the sale of cigarettes. Similarly, in Botswana, speculation is rife that the industry is in the process of serving the Attorney General with intentions to litigate if government does not lift the ban on the sale of cigarettes.

The British American Tobacco has given South African Cooperative Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma until Monday (today) morning to amend the Disaster Management regulations relating to the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products or it will go to court if the regulations are not amended by the given date.

The pressure being placed on the governments by the industry has not deterred the non governmetal organisation, Anti-Tobacco Network Botswana from pursuing its fight against tobacco use.

ATN Director, Professor Bontle Mbongwe has urge President Mokgweetsi Masisi to remain firm, and not bow to pressure from tobacco industry for the lifting of the ban on the sale of tobacco and related products during the State of the Public Emergency.

‘We know that the industry often bring about the issue of dis investing if countries do not review their laws, in the interest of the tobacco industry,” said Professor Mbongwe.

Professor Mbongwe said these companies always advance the issue of trade and investment and that governments would lose a lot of revenue if the take their investments elsewhere.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa during his announcement of the opening up of some sectors of the economy last month citing economic concerns, indicated that the ban on the sale of cigarettes will be lifted, only for the decision to be rescinded days later.

Mbongwe has said there was high expectation from the industry that Masisi, would follow suit and lift the ban on cigarette sales. “Many people were anticipating that government was going to lift the ban on the sale of cigarettes, especially that our neighbours have done the same,’ said Mbongwe.

According to the World Health Organisation, tobacco use may increase the risk of suffering from serious symptoms due to COVID-19 illness. It states that early research indicates that, compared to non-smokers, having a history of smoking may substantially increase the chance of adverse health outcomes for COVID-19 patients, including being admitted to intensive care, requiring mechanical ventilation and suffering severe health consequences.

Smoking is already known to be a risk-factor for many other respiratory infections, including colds, influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis. The effects of smoking on the respiratory system makes it more likely that smokers contract these diseases, which could be more severe. Smoking is also associated with increased development of acute respiratory distress syndrome, a key complication for severe cases of COVID-19 among people with severe respiratory.

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