Press release FITA 11 March 2019

Press release – FITA – for immediate release

We note the recent court ruling by the Honourable Malopa J in the Gauteng Provincial Division held at Pretoria in the urgent court application brought by one of our members, Gold Leaf Tobacco Corporation (“GLTC”) against the spokesperson of the #TakeBackTheTax campaign Yusuf Abramjee (“Abramjee”).

We must however state that we are somewhat astonished by comments from Abramjee and the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (“TISA”), who count among their membership the powerful British American Tobacco, claiming the aforementioned ruling as a victory whereas the merits of GLTC’s case were not dealt with by the aforementioned learned Judge. The ruling merely stated that the application was not urgent and needed to be brought in the normal course.

It is therefore disingenuous and misleading, but not at all surprising, of Abramjee and TISA to give the impression to the public that they have won the battle against GLTC. Our understanding is that GLTC in fact still intends approaching the courts for the necessary relief as sought against Abramjee amongst others. In this regard we fully support GLTC.

We further wish to bring to the public’s attention certain issues which Abramjee raised in his answering affidavit in the abovementioned court application brought against him by GLTC, wherein he states that he makes the unlawful defamatory remarks of and concerning GLTC and it’s RG brand in his capacity as a “social activist”, and he does so as he is specifically concerned about the illicit cigarette trade.

We attach herein below a photograph of Page 195 of Abramjee’s answering affidavit, which image appears to be an extract from the IPSOS report, and which report Abramjee treats to be absolute conclusive evidence in respect of the cigarette industry. Apparent from Abramjee’s own evidence is that there are a multitude of brands, which brands do not belong to any of our members, which are on the list of “BELOW MCT” (which we understand to mean below minimum collectable tax) according to the report. We wish to point out in particular TISA member brands Peter Stuyvesant, Dunhilland Rothmans. Whilst we maintain our stance on the IPSOS report and its lack of independence, Abramjee has always maintained that he accepts the said report’s findings as gospel and that he interprets “below MCT” to mean “illegal”.

We now wish to ask of Abramjee to respond specifically as to why he has singled out only FITA member brands in his public utterances and social media posts, yet he remains silent on inter alia the aforementioned 3 brands belonging to TISA members or any other brands listed in the attached extract for that matter.

If Abramjee’s false and defamatory allegations against some of our members stem directly as a result of the findings of the IPSOS report he must remain resolute on his views of the industry as a whole as concluded by the report and comment on all aspects of the industry, and not limit his attacks to the competitors of those he is in the pocket of.

We first raised the issue of Abramjee merely being a hired gun and mercenary in our press release of 20 August 2018 wherein we aligned ourselves with credible publications such as the Daily Maverick who,in their article Professionals co-opted to back tobacco giants[1], in fact warned the public at large to view campaigns such as the #TakeBackTheTax campaign with the necessary caution as they are being funded by big tobacco manufacturers in their pursuit to try and influence government policy in respect of tobacco legislation. The aforementioned publication went on to state that a number of respected journalists and prominent members of society, of which category Abramjee falls under given his large Twitter following (over 213 900 followers), have been roped in to punt this misleading campaign.

If Abramjee was truly acting in the interests of the public he would then address the entire industry at large and not limit it to our members as a result of them taking a huge chunk of the market away from his bosses at TISA.

As previously stated, as an organisation we fully support any effort by the state and affected industry stakeholders to curb smuggling and the illicit trade in cigarettes. This is echoed by our signing of the joint statement which was released to the press and the public at large on 15 August 2018 indicating inter alia FITA’s commitment to, together with SARS and TISA, combat the aforementioned problem. This was done whilst maintaining our position that smuggling, although a problem, pales in comparison to the vast amounts of profits which leave our shores through aggressive tax avoidance schemes such as base erosion and profit shifting employed by some in our industry. This, in addition to other compliance risks along the value chain in the tobacco industry

 [1] https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2018-08-19-prof9essionals-co-opted-to-back-tobacco-giants/

should, we feel, should also be considered, and that compliance should never be limited to one aspect when the picture is far greater than just the illicit trade.

We would again like to urge journalists and the public at large to be aware of the tactics of the powerful multinationals and to consider all aspects that lead to losses to the economy and to not become the public relations arm of some within the industry.

Issued by the Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association: 11 March 2019

For queries kindly contact Monique Vogel t: 072 720 7919; e: Monique@fita.co.za

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