British American Tobacco South Africa (Batsa) began urgent legal action on Friday against the South African government’s decision to extend the ban on tobacco sales at level 3 of seclusion. Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita SA) has already dragged the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to court over the ban.
Batsa says in a statement since the ban on tobacco sales came into effect, Batsa has not yet received a formal response from the government. He was also not involved in any of the government’s consultation processes.
Johnny Moloto, Batsa’s chief of foreign affairs, says Batsa has so far only expressed its support for government seclusion regulations to curb the spread of the virus.
It was reported on Thursday that the National Command Council said level 3 of the seclusion period is the biggest reopening of the economy ever since the complete nationwide seclusion was introduced 63 days ago. During Level 3, consumers will again be able to purchase all products that were banned during Levels 4 and 5. However, the purchase and sale of tobacco products remain prohibited. The export of tobacco products is allowed.
“We have made continuous efforts to engage with the government. While all other products may now be sold except tobacco products and given the lack of any response from the government, we have decided to take legal action urgently, ”says Moloto.
According to Moloto, the ongoing ban on legal tobacco sales will threaten the survival of the tobacco sector, leaving thousands of people unemployed. He says the ban on legal tobacco sales drives millions of smokers, and law-abiding citizens and traders, to obtain cigarettes in illegal ways. “It robs the government of much-needed excise duty,” says Moloto.
Batsa says the Treasury is currently losing R35 million in excise duty revenue daily due to the ban on cigarette sales in South Africa.
“We were the largest manufacturer of tobacco products in the country prior to the introduction of the national seclusion. We owe it to our consumers, customers, suppliers and employees to do everything in our power to protect the legitimate tobacco trade in South Africa and lift the ban on tobacco products as an urgent matter, ”says Moloto.
The Japan Tabacco International (JTI), groups, and organizations representing the tobacco value chain across the country, including consumers, tobacco farmers, and retailers, will support Batsa in this case.