BATSA decides against legal action over cigarette sale ban

The firm said instead of going to the courts, it had decided to pursue further discussions with government on the regulations under the COVID-19 lockdown.

FILE: On Wednesday morning, the company said it received a formal response to its letter from the national command council. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA) has decided not to pursue legal action against government over the ban on the sale of cigarettes.

On Wednesday morning, the company said it received a formal response to its letter from the national command council.

The firm said instead of going to the courts, it had decided to pursue further discussions with government on the regulations under the COVID-19 lockdown.

"The significant rise in the illicit trade of tobacco during the lockdown continues to be of great concern and threatens the livelihood of many who depend on legitimate businesses to sustain themselves."

BATSA said it was convinced that by working together, they could 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.

"Whilst BATSA 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 Four 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."

It suggested 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. As BATSA we remain committed to supporting government in all its efforts during this difficult time. To that end we provide job security for our 1,500 employees and continue to provide support to our key local partners and their 8,000 employees and 30,000 dependents in the tobacco value chain; which stretches right across the nation, including the farmers, processors and our retail partners," the statement concluded.

The ban on the sale of cigarettes has sparked outrage from smokers, who've called on government to re-think the regulations and benefit from the tax revenue that could be raised by allowing sales.