The Western Cape govt thinks cigarette sales are okay – but Cape Town stores don’t agree

Business Insider SA
No smoking
  • National rules that effectively forbid the sale of cigarettes during lockdown haven't changed.
  • Yet the Western Cape government is telling stores it is okay for them to sell cigarettes, as long as they do so alongside other essentials.
  • A fast sample exercise by Business Insider South Africa shows that smokers are still out of luck: major stores are not taking the provincial government at its word.
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The Western Cape government says it is okay for stores in the province to sell cigarettes, as long as they do so alongside something like food or cleaning supplies, listed as essentials in regulations governing the lockdown.

"Cigarettes may be sold during the lockdown, but only together with essential goods," the province said in a statement aimed at clarifying lockdown rules for businesses.

This, it said, it could confirm "in alignment with SAPS Western Cape".

But the SA Police Service had made no such determination, a national spokesperson said on Thursday. Nor is there any way it could; the rules for the lockdown are written by the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta), not the police. There had been no change in the effective ban on cigarettes, Cogta said – and updated rules published on Thursday dealt with attending funerals and how cellphone users will be tracked, without any mention of cigarettes.

See also | The govt can now track cellphone locations back to 5 March: how Covid-19 tracing will work

The tobacco industry and others have argued that the ban on cigarette sales should be lifted, if only when groceries are also bought, to avoid smuggling and illegal sales. Though that argument had apparently been on the agenda for government discussion, there has been no formal action on it. 

Spokespeople for the Western Cape provincial government were not immediately available to answer questions on the legal basis for its claim that stores could sell cigarettes.

But regardless of what the provincial government was thinking, nicotine addicts remained out of luck, practically speaking. On Thursday Business Insider South Africa found only one store in Cape Town that said it would sell cigarettes, in a sample of a dozen outlets across three major chains.

Other stores said they were waiting for confirmation from head offices of the rules, or were waiting for a clear and specific announcement from the national government, or simply that cigarettes were not available until further notice.

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