British American Tobacco South Africa (Batsa) has changed its mind on taking legal action against government to lift the tobacco ban during the national lockdown period.
It has decided to pursue further discussions with the government on the formulation and application of the regulations under the Covid-19 lockdown.
Batsa gave the government until 10am on May 4 to provide clarity on why tobacco products have been banned indefinitely, after government’s about-turn on lifting the tobacco ban. President Cyril Ramaphosa initially announced that sales could continue under level 4 lockdown on April 23, but later Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma reversed the decision.
The tobacco company says it received the response it was expecting from the ministers in the National Command Council, and it has “taken the decision not to pursue legal action at this stage.”
Batsa said it supports the government in its mission to prevent the further spread of the virus.
“We believe it is vital that there is a renewed and stronger effort under level 4 to permanently close down the illegal supply lines of tobacco that have been established over the past number of weeks. Reopening the legal, taxed and regulated tobacco market must be part of the solution,” says Batsa.
It emphasises that cigarettes should only be sold in established retail outlets where the government’s correct social distancing guidelines can be enforced.
“At the moment, smokers are putting themselves and their households at further risk of the virus by moving around in search of cigarettes being sold by illegal traders,” says Batsa.
Illicit crime on the rise
It says it will be working together with the government to find a better solution that works for all South Africans and removes the threat of criminal sanction from 11 million tobacco consumers in the country.
It also lambasts the overwhelming rise in the illicit trade of tobacco during the lockdown.
“[It] continues to be of great concern and threatens the livelihood of many who depend on legitimate businesses to sustain themselves,” says Batsa.
The South African Revenue Service Commissioner Edward Kieswetter said on Tuesday that there could be a shortfall of R285 billion in tax revenues this year.
Prior to the lockdown illegal trade in cigarettes was costing South Africans more than R10 billion a year.