Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association, which represents eight tobacco manufacturers, is challenging the ban on the sale of cigarettes.
TIME is up for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma after she was given a deadline by British American Tobacco to change the regulations and permit the sale of cigarettes or face litigation.
Furthermore, the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association, which represents eight tobacco manufacturers, is challenging the ban on the sale of cigarettes, and filed an urgent application in the Pretoria High Court on Monday.
In court papers, the association said that the banning of the sale of tobacco products was “unlawful”; it also stated that the “sudden ill-considered ban on the sale of legal tobacco products seriously affects and impacts the health and welfare (both physical and psychological) of millions of South Africans”.
“The prohibition has an enormous negative commercial impact on the manufacturers and retailers of tobacco products and their right to pursue their businesses. The prohibition has well-recognised results in the form of increased illicit trade and significant losses of tax revenue,” the court papers stated.
The association wants the minutes of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) meetings that led to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement and the subsequent vote in favour of the continued ban, and a full record of the decision and reasons for it.
It is asking the court to give urgent consideration to the matter and lift the ban. It has proposed the government be given until May19 to file the minutes.
In a statement, the association said: “We have resorted to this step as a means of last resort. Regrettably, all attempts to engage the government in a meaningful manner to resolve this particular issue have proved unsuccessful. We have now left it to the courts to adjudicate on this matter.”
In his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa said that after careful consideration and discussion, the NCCC had reconsidered its position on tobacco.
“This was a collective decision and the public statements by both myself and the minister were done on behalf of, and mandated by the collective (that) I lead. Every regulation we have put in place has been carefully considered. Along the way there has been consultation with medical experts, various constituencies and different industries. We have been guided by international bodies and the experience of other countries,” he said.
The illicit trade in tobacco costs the economy billions of rand annually through lost tax revenue. According to the SA Revenue Service (Sars), there had been an under-recovery of more than R1.5 billion on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes in April.
Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu said: “We reiterate our stance that this was a collective decision, and we will meet them in court. The president made the government’s position very clear today.”
Mthembu said the decision was based on saving lives.
“The fundamental issue is the health of our people – saving the lives of South Africans is our priority. We are still in a battle. Whoever wants to take us to court, we are ready to defend this,” he said
British American Tobacco said it was unable to comment.