Cigarette buying frenzy due to tighter lockdown rumours

PRETORIA, South Africa – Smokers are not getting caught without their fix again, and as rumours abound of tighter lockdown regulations coming, they are ensuring they stock up.

During the hard lockdown, when the sale of tobacco products was banned overnight, smokers resorted to all kinds of shady deals, paying exorbitant prices for cigarettes on the illegal market.

With fears that the president will have another “family meeting” any day now, and announce further restrictions on top of an alcohol ban and curfew, favourite brands are flying off the shelf.

Government’s recent decision to appeal the High Court ruling which found that the five month-long ban on the sale of tobacco products was unconstitutional, also seems to have fuelled the frenzy, manager at Wapadrand Spar, in Pretoria East, DeVilliers Aveling, said.

“Since Tuesday people have been flocking to our shop to buy cigarettes. Where they would buy one or two packets a day, our clients are now buying cartons.”

Aveling said one client bought 22 cartons, saying he was not going to get caught off guard again should there be another sudden ban on cigarettes.

According to Aveling cigarette sales at his Spar went up 560% this week, compared to normal sales.

He said they were still had stock as the Spar Tops was closed due to the rules on the sale of alcohol, and there were other Spar Tops nearby.

The popular brands go first, but when stock is low on those, people become less choosy, he said. This is what was seen during the previous ban, where smokers would eventually buy anything they could get their hands on.

Linda Smits, 39, of Pretoria east, was one of the customers who bought in bulk yesterday. While she did not want her picture taken, she did not mind sharing her anxieties over another possible ban on the sale of cigarettes.

“I was caught on the back foot when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the ban on the sale of tobacco products and alcohol last year.

“I had known that under the Disaster Management Act it would be possible for the government to impose these curbs, but I simply didn’t believe it would actually do it. So I didn’t stock up – there was no time anyway.”

Smits said she had a miserable few months until the ban was relaxed, first on alcohol sales, and eventually on cigarette sales.

“Those months left their mark. So, as soon as we were able to buy alcohol and cigarettes again, I started slowly stocking up. When President Ramaphosa announced a new total ban on alcohol sales in late December, I at least had some wine and whisky, probably enough to last me two months.

“This week I bought several cartons of cigarettes. The court might have ruled that the ban on the sale of tobacco products does not withstand constitutional scrutiny, but (Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister) Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has appealed the ruling, and this time I am taking no chances.

“I am sure we are heading for a stricter lockdown, and this time I hope to be able to go through it with enough cigarettes, at least. “

A Pretoria advocate who does not want to be named, said he was also not taking any chances. “I am ashamed to say, but I made them search their storeroom for my favourite brand and I bought them all,” he said.

Aveling said every time there was talk that the president was going to address the nation, cigarette sales went up, but this time it was worse than usual.

British American Tobacco SA and others in the tobacco industry are opposing the government’s application for leave to appeal the High Court judgment that found the tobacco ban was unnecessary.

The State had argued the necessity of the ban on the grounds that smokers may be more compromised should they contract Covid-19 and so put strain on the health system. However manufacturers argued the loss in tax revenue and the rise in the illicit trade in cigarettes as a result of the ban.

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