A consortium of tobacco companies has taken the South African government to court in a bid to overturn the administration’s decision to ban the sale of alcohol and tobacco products during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Japan Tobacco International (JPI) and British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA), together with The South Africa Tobacco Transformation Alliance (SATTA) claim the ban represents an unwarranted and unfair infringement of citizens’ rights. The tobacco giants are arguing that, rather than gaining the positive outcomes predicted by the government, prohibition will in fact lead to a reduction in vital tax revenues and a rise in the illicit trade of tobacco products, at the same time potentially imperilling the lockdown itself.
Voicing concerns over the negative impact of the government crackdown is a savvy move by an industry looking to validate its commercially motivated call for a repeal of the legislation. Those South Africans – including some civil society groups – who have taken a stand against the ban will certainly be keen to hitch their wagon to anything that emphasises its defects.
Smuggling is on the rise
There’s little doubt that Pretoria’s ban on tobacco sales has led to a smuggling boom. Despite the erection of a 25-mile coronavirus control fence along the border between South Africa and neighbouring Zimbabwe in April, tobacco consignments are still been transported every day through hundreds of illegal entry points.