British American Tobacco South Africa (BAT) is again threatening legal action over the ban on cigarette and tobacco product sales during the lockdown.

The group has given government until 10am on Monday to lift the ban or risk being hauled to court.

This month, following Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's announcement that the ban would extend into level 4 of the lockdown, BAT put government on similar terms.

But the group then backed down, saying it had instead decided to "pursue further discussions with government on the formulation and application of the regulations under the lockdown".

On Friday, however – and in the wake of the news that the ban would now be extended into level 3 of the lockdown – BAT issued a statement saying it was starting urgent legal proceedings with the support of Japan Tobacco International "as well as groups and organisations representing the tobacco value chain across the country, including consumers, tobacco farmers and retailers".

The group said it had made "every effort to constructively engage with the government, including making detailed submissions, along with other interested parties, to various ministers, as well as to the Presidency".

"To date, no formal response has been received from the government, and BAT has also not been included in any of the government's consultation processes so far," the group said.

BAT spokesperson Johnny Moloto said government had decided to maintain the ban in level 3 of the lockdown "under the guise of limiting the spread of Covid-19, while allowing all other previously banned consumer products to go back on sale".

"Given the situation and the lack of any response from the government despite our ongoing efforts to engage with them, we are now commencing urgent legal proceedings," Moloto said.

"The government's continued ban on legal tobacco sales is threatening the survival of the legal tobacco sector and the livelihoods it directly supports.

"It has only succeeded in significantly growing a massive and nationwide illegal industry at the direct expense of law-abiding businesses, citizens and taxpayers."

Activist Bev Maclean, whose petition to overturn the ban has garnered more than 606,000 signatures, has voiced her support for BAT's court action.

Maclean said "the unintended consequences of the ban are many".

"Not only have smokers continued to buy cigarettes and smoke, albeit from the illegal market, but they now have to travel further to obtain them, and are being forced to share a cigarette, as the prices are so exorbitant," she said.

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