South Africa’s biggest cigarette company, British American Tobacco, has started accepting “holding orders” from its customers, it confirmed this week.
It is not actually selling cigarettes, the company said, and it is not yet invoicing on the orders it takes.
“No deliveries will be made until the sale of tobacco products is allowed. The date for delivery will depend on when the ban is lifted,” said British American Tobacco Southern Africa (Batsa) external affairs head Johnny Moloto in a statement to Business Insider South Africa.
But the company wants “to be in a position to better serve its customers and consumers once allowed”.
South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown, and associated ban on the sale of tobacco, is more than three months old, and the vast majority of smokers are believed to have run out of legally-acquired cigarettes.
Many of those smokers are though to have found their way to suppliers of vastly profitable illegal cigarettes, but retailers are betting they will return to their preferred brands when possible.
Some of those placing orders with British American Tobacco said their stocks were utterly depleted, legally, the insist, by bulk buying shortly before the ban came into effect.
Now they are extremely eager to restock in time for an anticipated rush when the ban is lifted. Some even expressed concern about having to fend off abusive or violent customers if they can not immediately satisfy demand, or run out.
“I just pray we can keep up,” said one retailer, who has arranged for extra cashiers, change, and security on 1 July, which is when he believes sales will become legal again.
Many retailers appear to share that belief, though none could say exactly why that date is propitious.
British American Tobacco did not comment on when it thinks the ban may be lifted.