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Smokers left fuming as hopes go up in smoke

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Government made a u-turn on lifting the ban on selling and buying of tobacco products.

THE HOPES of smokers in Upington went up in smoke when the government announced that the ban on cigarettes would remain in place during Level 4 of the Covid-19 lockdown.

The government on Wednesday night retracted its previous announcement that the ban on the selling and buying of tobacco products would be allowed during Level 4 of the lockdown which starts on Friday, May 1.

Many smokers were still fuming on Thursday when asked how they felt regarding the about-turn.

“This is such a disappointment. The government got us all happy and rejoicing and then the next moment we were left high and dry. It is so painful … but we have to adhere to the laws,” many said.

One of the upset residents, Margaret Louw, said she did not understand how the government could say one thing one day and then make a U-turn just days later.

“It would have been better had they just left the ban on smoking as it was. They had us all rejoicing and then made a complete U-turn. We had been patient and adhered to their regulations. Why can they not give us some freedom in return? We are inside our homes with our children all day long. I have been craving a cigarette for so long. The craving makes the lockdown unbearable. They could at least have granted us that. We will not get coronavirus from cigarettes,” said Louw.

Another smoker said she did not understand the link between the virus and smoking.

“The number of coronavirus cases is low in the Northern Cape. That is a sign that we adhere to the regulations. We can stay at home and smoke. We won’t be out on the streets. Why did they stop the sale of cigarettes in the first place? The doctors claim it has something to do with keeping our lungs healthy but there are doctors who also smoke,” she said.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” another resident added. “How is sharing cigarettes different to sharing a cooldrink or standing in long lines with no social distancing? This is an abuse of power and goes against our freedom of choice. I understand the ban on alcohol because that is to prevent domestic violence but leaving smokers craving for cigarettes could see them also resorting to violence.”

Another angry resident pointed out that obesity was also a risk factor for the coronavirus. “The government should ban chocolates, sweets, chips and fizzy cooldrinks if it is serious about saving lives.”

Local traders said they have received desperate pleas from customers who begged them to sell cigarettes.

“I cannot risk my business being closed over one or two packets of cigarettes. If one person hears I have been selling cigarettes then everyone will rush here and expect me to sell to them. The authorities will not think twice about closing my shop,” said one tuck shop owner.

He said that he had placed a sign inside the shop to alert customers that he was not selling cigarettes during the lockdown.

“I made a sign for everyone to read and see that I am not allowed to sell cigarettes. There are, however, some who continue to ask even though they see the sign.”

The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said on Wednesday that the National Command Council had discussed the issue and decided not to allow the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products for health reasons, as smoking posed a risk for the spread of Covid-19.