Tensions in the country’s tobacco industry appear to be escalating, with the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) planning to lodge a criminal complaint against rival British American Tobacco South Africa (Batsa) over alleged contraventions of promotion and packaging legislation.
Fita says it looks like there is “a concerted effort by Batsa to promote the unlawful sale of loose cigarettes through the use of promotional material”.
Batsa general manager Johnny Moloto on Wednesday insisted the company “strives to ensure that its business is conducted in compliance with the law at all times”.
But Fita chair Sinenhlanhla Mnguni this week wrote to the department of health and the SA Revenue Services (Sars) asking them to investigative allegations that Batsa cigarettes were being sold loose or as individual cigarettes and that customers were being “gifted” airtime and branded cigarette cases for their support.
The association’s position is that this is in contravention of the Tobacco Products Control Act, as well as the Customs and Excise Act.
It intends lodging a criminal complaint. Mnguni said in a statement Fita had been informed last month Batsa and “certain retail stores” – understood to mainly be spaza and smaller retail shops – in and around Johannesburg were selling loose cigarettes and “giving and/or gifting” customers R5 airtime vouchers and branded cigarette cases.
Mnguni said “test purchases” had confirmed this to be the case.
“We have … photographs and video footage depicting the promotional material and packaging for the sale of loose cigarettes,” he said.
“It is our contention that … Batsa and/or the said retailers contravened sections of the Tobacco Products Control Act and the Customs and Excise Act.”
The Tobacco Products Control Act bars the advertising and promotion of tobacco products and requires these products are packaged in a “prescribed manner”.
It also bans offering “gifts” to customers “in consideration of the purchase of a tobacco product”. Neither Sars nor the department of health had responded to questions at the time of publishing.