- Drama has unfolded in the ongoing tobacco ban legal battle as government lawyers did a U-turn on their previous agreement
- The BATSA case, which was set to be heard next week Tuesday, has been postponed to August
- The BATSA legal team says they are exploring all legal options
The tobacco ban battle has taken yet another twist. South African smokers may now need to wait until August for the second of two cases challenging the ban on cigarettes to be heard.
The country's largest tobacco manufacturer, British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA), and other tobacco groupings including Japan Tobacco International (JTI) have taken the state to court to try and get the ban on the sale of cigarettes removed. The legal challenge against the ban was due to be heard on Tuesday, 30 June.
The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) has its own ongoing case against the government and the BATSA case is distinct from this case. Judgement in the FITA case has been reserved.
News24 reported that on Wednesday, BATSA and fellow applicants submitted their responding affidavits to the High Court and there appeared to be an agreement between parties that the case would be heard on 30 June.
Briefly.co.za reported that a spokesperson for BATSA said that the company had started accepting “holding orders” from its customers, optimistic that their case would be heard soon and would go well.
BATSA said it has received communication that the court hearing on the prohibition on the sale of tobacco products will be pushed out by a further six weeks.
The tobacco association said it received communication on Friday, 26 June that the case has now been moved to the 6 and 7 of August.
"All applicants and the COGTA minister on behalf of the government had agreed the matter is urgent and needs to be resolved by the courts as soon as possible." said the company.
However, it appears the agreement has been overturned. BATSA immediately wrote a letter to protest this move, said BusinessTech.
Head of External Affairs at BATSA, Johnny Moloto said:
"In this almost six week delay alone, the fiscus will lose more than R1.4 billion in excise tax alone as the massive cigarette trade tightens its grip on the country. Thousands of jobs stand to be lost in the economy as criminality becomes the new normal.
"We are considering all our legal options and will be liaising directly with the government as we had both previously agreed that the matter was urgent and needed to be heard next Tuesday."
Moloto said postponing an already agreed-upon case is unprecedented and worrying.
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