Batsa shocked as case on tobacco ban delayed until August
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Cape Town - British American Tobacco South Africa (Batsa) on Friday said it has been informed by the Western Cape High Court that the hearing of its legal challenge to the country's three-month-old cigarette ban has been postponed until early August.
The matter was set down for argument on Tuesday next week, after Bats and the State attorney, on behalf of first respondent Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister Nkosazana Dlamni Zuma, agreed on a date.
However, on Friday morning, the cigarette manufacturer was informed in writing by the court that the case, which was filed on an urgent bases, would stand over until the next court term.
"Instead, an email was received this morning stating that the case has been delayed by almost six weeks into the next legal term," Johnny Moloto, the head of external affairs at Batsa, said.
"Having received the extremely strong replying papers from the applicants, the state president and Cogta have done a total volte face and now want the matter to be heard on 5 and 6 August, this despite their acknowledgement that it is urgent."
Moloto said the postponement was a delay of justice that would fuel the illicit cigarette trade.
“This delaying of justice and a resolution of this issue is inexplicable. By the time the case is heard the ban will have been in place for four and half months during which time billions of illegal cigarettes will have been sold."
Batsa and the State filed final affidavits to the high court.
Moloto said the six-week delay will cost the state some R1.4 billion in lost revenue from tobacco trade and thousands of jobs could be lost.
"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," he added.
“Postponing a case that has been agreed, by both sides, to be urgent is something that we believe is unprecedented and is very worrying.”
Fellow tobacco industry heavyweight the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association challenged the ban in the North Gauteng High Court, where judgment was reserved more than two weeks ago.