Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma stuck to her guns on the medical reasons for the cigarette ban during the Covid-19 pandemic, and denied being friends with self-confessed cigarette smuggler Adriano Mazzotti.
Dlamini-Zuma and Health Minister Zweli briefed the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mkhize said it was not even worth debating the matter, and it could never be said that tobacco was an essential service.
After Dlamini-Zuma and Mkhize briefed the NCOP, DA MP Cathlene Labuschagne enquired about the controversial cigarette ban.
She said there was no proof cigarettes increased the risks related to Covid-19. She added the tobacco ban only drove the sale of cigarettes underground, to the benefit of criminals.
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She said it "is known" Dlamini-Zuma visited Greece and the United Kingdom with Mazzotti.
"I must also put it on record, I'm not Mazzotti's friend. And secondly, if anyone is doing crime in South Africa, they must be arrested. Whatever crime, whether they are crime on cigarettes, or crime on what, those people who are doing crime must be arrested," Dlamini-Zuma responded.
Lawyers will explain 'a lot more on smoking and Covid-19'
She didn't confirm or deny visiting Greece and the UK with Mazzotti. She then said she could "go to town" on the effects of tobacco, but she wouldn't because the matter was before court.
She did, however, point to the health benefits of quitting smoking, and said that Covid-19 affects the respiratory system.
"Our lawyers will explain a lot more on smoking and Covid-19," she said.
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"In our communities, when people smoke and they don't have a cigarette each, they share cigarettes," she added.
Mkhize said the dangers of tobacco was well established.
"Tobacco is not good for anyone's health," he said. "Let's leave the issue."
"You can never say tobacco is an essential service," he said.
He added the debate about the financial impact of not allowing the sale of tobacco products was a different issue.
"If people want to sell cigarettes, if people want to smoke, then let's deal with it on that basis, but let's not deal with it because we think there is something wrong if we say that tobacco is not good for anybody's health - it isn't."
Mkhize and Dlamini-Zuma are both qualified as medical doctors.
The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) is opposing the tobacco ban in court.