South Africa imposed a ban on cigarettes to prevent respiratory problems associated with COVID-19, but few smokers were deterred because of a thriving illegal market.

There was a rush of sales of cigarettes when the ban was lifted on Aug. 18, but some of South Africa’s cigarette manufacturers say they fear the growth of the illegal market during the prohibition period could have a lasting impact and reduce legal sales.

South Africa “has the biggest, by far, illegal trade in tobacco in the world,” said British American Tobacco, the world’s second-largest tobacco group, which says it has an estimated 78% share in South Africa’s legal cigarette sales.

Hours before the official lifting of the ban came into effect, BAT called on South Africa to “urgently” ratify the World Health Organization protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products.

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