Tobacco leaves tested for potential coronavirus vaccine

The auditor-general’s real-time audit follows an earlier request by pres. Cyril Ramaphosa who demanded clarity on how covid-19 funds were being spent. Photo: Supplied

Whilst South African smokers are counting the days to the lifting of a cigarette sales ban, British American Tobacco (BAT) will soon trial a potential covid-19 vaccine using tobacco leaves.

Yes, you read that right. The world’s second biggest cigarette company has just revealed that it was ready to test its own possible vaccine using proteins from tobacco leaves on humans. This, after it generated a positive immune response in pre-clinical trials.

BAT’s portfolio includes at least 20 of South Africa’s most well-known cigarette brands, including Dunhill, Peter Stuyvesant and Benson & Hedges. According to a Reuters report, the company is just awaiting a final green light from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the vaccine. As soon as they get the go-ahead, it would progress to so-called phase 1 trials or testing on humans.

The company raised eyebrows in April when it said it was developing a covid-19 vaccine from tobacco leaves. BAT is confident that it could produce between 1 and 3 million doses per week if it got the support of government agencies and the right manufacturers.

Drugmakers across the globe have been racing to develop a vaccine for covid-19, caused by the new coronavirus, with some of the vaccines already in human trials. Experts have suggested that a covid-19 vaccine could take up to 18 months to develop.

Reuters reports that the London-based BAT now confirms it had submitted a pre-investigative new drug application to the FDA and that the agency had acknowledged the submission. BAT said it was also talking with other government agencies around the world about the vaccine.

Up to R200 for an illegal pack of smokes

The tobacco vaccine trials follows a ban on cigarette sales in South Africa since the country first announced its covid-19 lockdown 52 days ago. The sale of all tobacco products will only be allowed during level 3 of the lockdown, which is expected in two weeks’ time.

However, research by the University of Cape Town indicates that up to 90% of all local smokers are still buying cigarettes during the lockdown. Many unknown and illegal cigarette brands are being illegally sold for up to R200 per packet.

Earlier, BAT South Africa confirmed that it will now longer be taking legal action against government to legalise cigarette sales during the current level 4 lockdown. In a press release the company says, “We are convinced that by working together we can find a better solution that works for all South Africans and removes the threat of criminal sanction from 11 million tobacco consumers in the country. The significant rise in the illicit trade of tobacco during the lockdown continues to be of great concern and threatens the livelihood of many who depend on legitimate businesses to sustain themselves.”