British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA) announced on Friday it is commencing urgent legal proceedings to challenge the government’s decision to extend the ban on tobacco sales during Level 3.
BATSA is supported in this action by Japan Tobacco International (JTI) as well as
groups and organisations representing the tobacco value chain across the country,
including consumers, tobacco farmers and retailers.
The company said in a statement it has made every effort to constructively engage with the government since the ban came into force, including making detailed submissions, along with other interested parties, to various Ministers, as well as directly to the Presidency.
To date, no formal response has been received from the government, and BATSA
has also not been included in any of the government’s consultation processes so far.
BATSA has long argued that the banning of a legal product will have dire
consequences – driving millions of smokers to the illicit market, robbing the
government of much needed excise tax contributions, undercutting tobacco control
regulations, encouraging criminal behaviour and threatening thousands of jobs. This
position has been unequivocally supported by comprehensive independent analysis
and studies by, amongst others, the University of Cape Town’s REET unit.
The Treasury is currently losing R35m of vitally required revenue in excise taxes every
day that the ban on cigarette sales in South Africa continues.
“Given the situation, and the lack of any response from the government despite our ongoing efforts to engage with them, we are now commencing urgent legal proceedings,” Johnny Moloto, BATSA’s Head of External Affairs said.
“The government’s continued ban on legal tobacco sales is threatening the survival
of the legal tobacco sector and the livelihoods it directly supports. It has only
succeeded in significantly growing a massive and nationwide illegal industry at the
direct expense of law-abiding businesses, citizens and taxpayers.
“We are, or at least were prior to the lockdown, the largest manufacturer of tobacco products in the country and we owe it to our consumers, customers, suppliers and employees to do everything in our power to protect the legal tobacco trade in South
Africa, and to get the prohibition of tobacco products lifted as a matter of urgency.”
Smokers, who are frustrated by the continued prohibition of tobacco products, should be patient, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in an exclusive late-night interview with SABC on Thursday.
“We are not permanently going to be on level 3,” he explained.
“We are going to migrate to another level, even those who are hankering for tobacco, they must know that it is only a matter of time before their hankering is assuaged or addressed.”