British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA) is urging the South African government to lift a cigarette ban that went into effect with a stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The government imposed a 21-day lockdown, closing all nonessential services and banning essential businesses from selling tobacco and alcohol. The ban on tobacco sales is meant to help prevent smokers from suffering from severe complications of the virus—studies have shown that smokers and vapers may face more severe complications from the respiratory illness.
BATSA, however, argues that the ban may thwart the efforts to contain the virus. “It will unintentionally force 11 million smokers to go outside of their neighborhood in search of outlets willing to defy the ban, as we’ve seen in some media reports,” the company said. “This would lead to greater movement of people and more interactions than if smokers were able to buy cigarettes at their nearest legal outlet at the same time as buying all their other essential goods.”
The company also fears the ban would lead to more illegal trade, forcing smokers to search for cigarettes and other tobacco products on the black market.
The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) supports lifting the ban. “Uplifting the ban would, amongst other things, save jobs, bring more money into the state coffers, stimulate the economy and decrease the psychological impact on South Africans of the lockdown period,” said Sinenhlanhla Mnguni, FITA chairperson.
BATSA holds a 78 percent market share of the legal cigarette market in South Africa.