Deputy Health Minister Joe Phaahla has reiterated that the decision to disallow the sale of tobacco products in South Africa, in the fight against Covid-19, is a correct one.
"We know that this is a very topical issue, but indeed we believe that the decision to disallow retailing tobacco was and remains a correct one," he said at a virtual briefing on Sunday.
The deputy minister was participating in a dialogue with scientists, civil society and the media, hosted by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize
The aim of the dialogue was to increase awareness globally of the harmful effects of tobacco and nicotine products to human health.
"Tobacco use is a leading risk factor for health, killing half of those who smoke, eight million deaths globally, 1.2 million of those being what you call passive smokers who inhale it, but not out of choice," Phaahla said.
Phaahla further highlighted that South Africa had come a long way, saying that tobacco used to kill 40 000 people and upwards, but had come down to 20 000 people a year.
He said there was a responsibility to equip public with knowledge about the risks of tobacco products.
"We see this day as a very important day for us to promote healthy lifestyle, protect our children, and the message is that this is the time to say no to cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vaping so that you can live a healthy and long life."
The World Health Organisation's Dr Owen Kaluwa joined the debate, calling for all for young people to join the fight for a tobacco-free generation.
"We are calling on all parents and teachers to advocate for smoke-free public places and educate children on the risk of tobacco, with international solidarity young people can lead the way in becoming a tobacco-free society," he said.
The sale of tobacco has not been permitted in South Africa since the initial lockdown was implemented - in a bid to minimise the spread of Covid-19 - on 26 March 2020.
This decision has been met with some criticism from various interested parties, with some even threatening legal action against the "ban".
As the country moves to Level 3 of lockdown on Monday, the sale of tobacco products is still ,not permitted but members of the public will now be able to buy alcohol for home consumption.
As of Saturday, 30 May 2020 - the country has 30 967 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 643 deaths.