Three months after the ban on tobacco sales was lifted, the local industry is still struggling to compete with the glut of illicit products on the market.
Last week, the Western Cape High Court upheld British American Tobacco South Africa’s (Batsa’s) challenge to the ban and declared it to have been unconstitutional and invalid.
But it might be too little, too late. The ban was instituted with the lockdown in March and spanned five months before it was finally lifted in August.
Batsa in a statement at the weekend welcomed the court’s findings but highlighted the devastating impact the ban – and the boom in illicit trade it brought with it – was continuing to have on the local industry, reiterating its call for South Africa to ratify the World Health Organisation (WHO) protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco.
“The five-month ban on tobacco and vapour products sales was ill-considered, unlawful and has worsened the illicit trade in cigarettes and vapour products in the country,” it said.
And the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) on Monday echoed these sentiments. Fita launched its own legal challenge to the ban in the High Court in Pretoria this year but was unsuccessful.
Sinenhlanhla Mnguni, who chairs the association, said this week he and his team were still studying the Batsa judgment.
Mnguni also expressed serious concerns with the ongoing proliferation of the illicit trade.
“We’re seeing the effects of an inability to trade for five months now even more so than during the ban,” he said. “We know illicit
trade was rife prior to the lockdown. But now it’s even bigger.”
Mnguni described the growth of illicit trade under the ban as “exponential”.
He pointed to a recent visit by the joint standing committee on defence and the portfolio committee on defence and military veterans to three border sites, during which it emerged “lethal threats” were on the rise, with organised crime syndicates apparently “well-equipped with weapons and intelligence”.
Mnguni said this was “a clear indication” of how lucrative the illicit market had become.
“We had warned government that prolonging the cigarette ban would only serve to encourage these criminal elements,” he said,
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