A number of prominent South African companies have published an open letter to Cyril Ramaphosa, pleading for the national ban on tobacco products to be lifted.
The letter was published in the Sunday Times and was signed by major retailer Spar, British American Tobacco, SAAI, Fresh Stop, South African Tobacco, Twisp, and CTP Unlimited.
The letter pointed out that 5 July marks 100 days since the sale of tobacco products was first banned in South Africa, arguing that this has caused significant damage to South Africa’s economy and citizens.
“Whole communities have been torn apart as the ban has extinguished livelihoods that sustain thousands of families across the nation,” it said.
“With the stroke of a pen, 11 million previously law-abiding smokers and vapers have been turned into criminals.”
The companies pointed out that the ban has cost the country R3.5 billion in excise taxes to date – money which could have paid for:
- Two new hospitals and 5,000 ventilators
- 54 new schools
- The salaries of 25,000 nurses, 5,000 doctors, and 20,000 primary school teachers
- 8,045 new affordable homes
- 23 million food parcels for the poor
“It has been 100 days, but South Africa – the only major nation in the world with a tobacco and vaping ban – cannot afford for this to last a single day longer,” the letter said.
Court loss and delay
The publication of this open letter follows a double-blow of legal defeats for tobacco organisations in South Africa.
On 26 June, Pretoria High Court dismissed an application made by the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA), which argued for the lifting of the ban on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products during the national lockdown period.
In its ruling, the Court said FITA’s argument that tobacco products be considered ‘necessary’ due to the negative effects the ban was having on those dependent on the substance was without merit.
The court also noted that FITA’s case ignored the context in which the ban was put in place – an unprecedented global pandemic, which required swift response from the government.
FITA has said it will appeal this decision and keep the public updated on further developments.
British American Tobacco (BATSA) has also brought an urgent application to lift the national ban on the sale of tobacco, but this has been delayed for six weeks.
BATSA said it received communication on Friday 26 June that the application being brought by it and others against the ban has now been listed for 5 and 6 August.
The organisation labelled this move “inexplicable” and “worrying”, adding that all applications had previously agreed the matter was urgent and needed to be resolved as soon as possible.
“Having received the extremely strong replying papers from the applicants, the state president and Cogta have done a total volte-face and now want the matter to be heard on 5 and 6 August – this despite their acknowledgement that it is urgent,” BATSA’s Johnny Moloto said.
“This delaying of justice and a resolution of this issue is inexplicable.”
“By the time the case is heard the ban will have been in place for four and half months during which time billions of illegal cigarettes will have been sold.”