British American Tobacco South Africa says it will on Friday recommence with urgent legal proceedings to challenge the government’s decision to extend the ban on tobacco sales during Level 3 of the nationwide lockdown.

The state says the ban is needed to safeguard public health, as evidence suggests cigarette smokers are more likely to develop severe Covid-19 symptoms than non-smokers. 

BATSA, the country’s largest cigarette manufacturer, said in a statement it was supported in this action by Japan Tobacco International as well as “groups and organisations representing the tobacco value chain across the country, including consumers, tobacco farmers and retailers”.

“BATSA has made every effort to constructively engage with the government since the ban came into force, including making detailed submissions, along with other interested parties, to various Ministers, as well as directly to the Presidency,” it said in a statement. 

“To date, no formal response has been received from the government, and BATSA has also not been included in any of the government’s consultation processes so far.”

The cigarette giant said the ban was threatening the survival of SA’s legal tobacco sector, which employs thousands. 

The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association has already taken the government to court to challenge the ban in a separate case. While arguments have not yet been heard in that case, the state earlier in the week filed responding papers setting out its rationale for keeping the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products prohibited during the coronavirus pandemic.  

In a tweet on Friday morning, FITA chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni said the organisation’s case would be heard by the Pretoria High Court on 9 and 10 June.

Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said the ban was implemented to decrease the potential strain on SA’s health system.

Dlamini-Zuma argued that, while Covid-19 is a relatively new disease, early studies support the view that using tobacco products increases not only the risk of catching the disease but also the risk of contracting a more serious form of the disease.

“This, in turn, increases strain on the public health system, by increasing the number of people who will need access to resources such as intensive care unit beds and ventilators,” she said. 

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