Picture: 123RF/ginasanders
Picture: 123RF/ginasanders

A tobacco lobby group representing smaller cigarette manufacturers says it is expecting government to provide it on Tuesday with a record of the material that led to its decisions to first lift the cigarette ban and then reverse it.

The material will form part of the urgent challenge to the tobacco ban by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) to have the ban reviewed and overturned.

As part of its court action, Fita wanted President Cyril Ramaphosa and co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to provide it with information and records of meetings that underpinned the decision.

Dlamini-Zuma said in a response to Fita that the government would provide a “record” of the material that led to the national coronavirus command council's initial decision to lift the cigarette ban, and then the council and cabinet’s subsequent decision to reverse it. But she was adamant that command council minutes cannot be included in this record.

This comes as the government intends to extend the prohibition on the sale of tobacco products when the country further eases the Covid-19 lockdown and enters level 3 on June 1.

Ramaphosa announced on Sunday that the move to level three would see the majority of industries, including government services, finance and manufacturing, returning to work, and lifting of the nationwide curfew and the restrictions on exercise. The ban on the sale of alcohol for home consumption was also lifted. But the sale of cigarettes remained banned.

Issues around the increase in the illicit trade and the loss of tax revenue because of the ban have been raised. The SA Revenue Service is projecting an annual revenue loss of about R285bn based on figures for the first month of the lockdown and the effect of sluggish economic activity.

Fita chair Sinen Mguni on Monday said the group would now supplement its court papers to add its opposition to the level 3 ban on tobacco products.

He said whether the ban was instituted on level 5, 4 or 3, Fita still believed it was irrational.

Fita's court challenge was launched earlier in May, after Ramaphosa had initially announced that the ban on the sale of tobacco products would be lifted when the country moved to level 4, a decision that was later revoked.

Dlamini-Zuma said at the time that the command council had decided to leave the ban in place after consultation and 2,000 submissions from the public on the matter.

The court hearing is due to take place on June 9.

British American Tobacco SA (BATSA), the local division of the world’s second-largest cigarette producer, had also threatened to go to court over the ban, but backtracked on the decision. It said it would pursue further discussions with the government on the formulation of the regulations instead.

It is not yet clear if BATSA will now go ahead with its challenge after Sunday's announcement by Ramaphosa that the ban remains in place.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za