A sign letting people that smoking is allowed in t
(Getty)
  • The University of Pretoria told students and staff they could face disciplinary action if caught smoking on its grounds.
  • At first it said this was due to a notice from the government. Then it said it had acted on a statement, to the media, by the spokesperson for the minister of higher education.
  • That spokesperson was quoted as saying government's coronavirus command council had issued the decree. 
  • He now says he was misquoted, and that the department "is not aware of any information around this issue" of a smoking ban.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Update: The University of Pretoria has retracted its ban on smoking on campus. See the full statement below.

The University of Pretoria (UP) appears to have banned its more than 50,000 students from smoking across its seven campuses on the basis of a misunderstanding.

In an email first reported by MyBroadband, UP warned students and staff they could face disciplinary action if caught smoking while the ban on the sale of cigarettes remains in place.

Cigarettes may not be sold, but smoking them has never been banned – even though police minister Bheki Cele said the onus would be on a smoker to prove where their cigarettes had come from, in what President Cyril Ramaphosa later referred as "over enthusiasm".

UP first said its change in policy had been based on a notice from the department of higher education and training (DHET).

See also: A university is banning smoking on campus amid confusion about a supposed govt order

The institution told Business Insider South Africa it could not share the notice. Pressed further, it said it had "acted on the statement provided to the media by the higher education spokesperson".

It did not respond to further questions.

The statement the university appears to have acted on was contained in an article from The Mercury published on Friday, 19 June, under the headline "No smoking allowed at universities, colleges under Covid-19 rules".

It paraphrases DHET spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi as saying smoking is prohibited at institutions of higher learning, and quotes him directly as saying "law enforcement officers will be informed" if students are caught smoking. 

Mnisi appears to refer to a directive of the National Command Council (NCC), the cabinet structure in charge of coronavirus policy, imposing a ban on smoking at such institutions.

The same article quotes higher education minister Blade Nzimande on the need for a "a huge, huge campaign" against cigarettes and alcohol, beyond the Covid-19 crisis.

Asked about the apparent government directive on Tuesday, Mnisi said the DHET "is not aware of any information around this issue. We are therefore unaware of universities or colleges issuing a ban on smoking".

"I expressed the NCC pronouncement on selling of cigarettes as announced by the President and the subsequent regulations by Minister [Dlamini-Zuma]," Mnisi said, on being pointed to the article.

UP's policies on smoking have, over the years, referred to "balancing the interests of smokers and non-smokers" and, despite evidence of harm, accepting "the right of individuals to choose whether to smoke or not to smoke."

The university was not immediately available to comment on the future of its new policy.

Update: In response to a number of questions from Business Insider SA, UP provided a statement. It reads, in full:

"Please note that the university did not change its policy.

"The notice was based on a media report which we believed was from the Minister’s office and in light of the ban on the sale of cigarettes. It was issued in response to what we believed was a precaution taken in the best interest of our students and staff in the midst of planning to ensure their health and well-being during the planned, phased return of staff and students to the campuses. We take our responsibilities to protect the health and well-being of our community seriously. The university did not change its policy

"The statement on which the notice was based has turned out to be incorrect and we have now retracted the notice to students and staff."

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