FITA terminates Gold Leaf’s membership as rumours swirl about illegal sales during tobacco ban, Newsline

Cape Town – The Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association said on Wednesday it had expelled the Gold Leaf Tobacco Company from its ranks with immediate effect.

FITA chairman Sinenhlanhla Mnguni confirmed that Gold Leaf’s membership had been terminated, but did not immediately provide reasons.

The move comes two months after the end of South Africa’s contentious Covid-19 ban on tobacco sales which saw accusations from competitors and researchers that Gold Leaf was supplying the thriving black market.

Zimbabwean-owned Gold Leaf produces the cheaper so-called “value” brands RG, Voyager, Chicago and Savannah.

It hit back at FITA’s announcement with a statement claiming the departure had in fact been its choice.

FITA became a household name during the ban on tobacco sales after becoming the first group within the industry to take the government to court in a bid to overturn the ban.

It failed in the North Gauteng High Court but won leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal.

The group argued that the litigation was in the public interest as it tested the extent of the government’s powers during South Africa’s national state of disaster which remains in place in response to the global pandemic.

However, FITA withdrew the appeal after the ban was lifted.

As sales resumed, South Africa’s biggest cigarette manufacturer British American Tobacco complained that its brands had been usurped by those made by FITA members including Gold Leaf because the companies had breached the prohibition.

It claimed Gold Leaf had illicitly sold 10 million cigarettes a day during the ban.

The claim was largely based on research carried out by the Research Unit on the Economics of Excisable Products based at the University of Cape Town.

FITA said at the time it did not deny that its brands were “in the market” but said BAT SA was trying to deflect attention from its own illicit activities.

African News Agency (ANA)