JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – A raft of South African tobacco companies, activists and associations are seeking legal action over the ban on cigarette sales during the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
South Africa is moving to a more eased level 3 lockdown in a five-level system from June 1, allowing most economic sectors, including mining and manufacturing, to fully resume operations.
The relaxed regulations will also allow the sale of alcohol for home consumption. But the government has maintained the ban on sales of tobacco, citing health risks that make people vulnerable to the coronavirus.
British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA) said on Friday it was commencing urgent legal proceedings to challenge the government’s decision to extend the ban on tobacco sales.
BATSA, which sells brands such as Dunhill and Lucky Strike, has said the ban could boost illicit trade in tobacco as smokers were more likely to buy from underground traders.
The ban was “robbing the government of much needed excise tax contributions … and threatening thousands of jobs,” the company said in a statement.
BATSA is the leading tobacco manufacturer in South Africa with 78% market share of the legal cigarette market.
Japan Tobacco International, another multinational in South Africa, groups of farmers, retailers and consumers are also part of the legal challenge, BATSA said.
Separately, the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA), which represents the interest of local cigarette manufacturers including Gold Leaf Tobacco Company and Carnilinx, in early May took the government to court on the continued ban.
FITA said on Friday its lawsuit will be heard at Pretoria High Court from June 9.
(This story corrects to remove reference to ‘Camel’ from paragraph 5)
(Reporting by Promit Mukherjee; editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and David Evans)