Smokers have come forward to share how much they have been paying cigarettes while the ban on tobacco products has been in place throughout the lockdown. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)
Smokers have come forward to share how much they have been paying cigarettes while the ban on tobacco products has been in place throughout the lockdown. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

SA lockdown: Smokers lament cost of black market cigarettes

By Theolin Tembo Time of article published May 28, 2020

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Cape Town - South African smokers have come forward to share how much they have been paying cigarettes while the ban on tobacco products has been in place throughout the lockdown. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday announced that when the country moves to level 3 lockdown on June 1, the sale of alcohol will be permitted, but that the ban on tobacco will remain in place.

“The sale of tobacco products will remain prohibited in alert level 3 due to the health risks associated with smoking,” Ramaphosa said

While many smokers had prepared and bought cartons at the start of lockdown, those quickly ran out as the lockdown has been extended, and the ban remaining steadfast.

The ban has forced smokers to turn to the black market in search of cigarettes. Now smokers have come forward to share how they have been paying for a packet of cigarettes.

Bianca said she has paid up to R70 for a pack of Malboro which retails for around R36 and R50 (depending on whether you buy from large retail outlets or informal traders), but added that due to the lockdown has mostly stopped smoking.

“Reason I haven't smoked in 24 days is that I am not willing to just smoke ‘anything’ and cannot afford inflated black market prices.”

Robyn, another Marlboro smoker, said that they have been paying R200 but refuse to pay that much for any other brand.

“I just think it’s ridiculous and exploitative. A single cigarette costs more than a litre of petrol, so I switched to CBD vapes instead. I’d rather pay that amount on something healthier than these cigarettes.”

Frank, who lives in Johannesburg, said that he sometimes smokes Sharp, sometimes Rutherford and George - which he roughly pays R32 for. Since the start of the lockdown he has been paying R100 for cigarettes.

“At the beginning, they had Stuyvesant at the same price, whilst the lesser brands were R60.

“I’ve been quite annoyed by the lockdown, but more so because I quit for 2 weeks then picked it up again when the opportunity presented itself. But it's very expensive so I'm probably going to give it up again by the weekend,” he said.

“I understand that it's a health risk but that has always been the case and at some point, we should be given back the freedom to choose. The lockdown was meant to allow government time to prepare for increased health care capacity, not indefinitely suspend personal freedom and bodily autonomy.”

Black market cigarette sellers continue to thrive in their business by selling tobacco products under lockdown, sellers have doubled prices of cigarettes to make more profit, due to the health risks associated with smoking, tobacco products will remain prohibited in level 3. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Kim, who lives in Grahamstown, said that she has bought cigarettes illegally only twice and has been rationing because finding cigarettes in the small town is hard.

“Because it's Grahamstown, we haven't paid exorbitant amounts at all. I bought a carton of Camel Black for R350 which is normal price and then an unknown brand called 'Kyro' for R250 a carton.”

Liam, who smokes a rare cigarette brand, said that he has resorted to smoking Chicago because it's been the only brand he recognises; and it's been hovering between R150 and R180 per pack.

“The Stuyvesant has been selling for up to R250 per pack. I couldn't find my brand anywhere, and the most premium cigarette I saw under lockdown was Camel Original at R200 per pack when most other cigarettes were still around R80 per pack. 

“There were a few brands I'd never heard of, four weeks into lockdown, being sold for R60 to R80 per pack but recently the prices have skyrocketed. Earlier this week I paid R180 for Derby, but I still wasn't prepared to pay R250 for Stuyvesant Red or Rothmans Blue. 

“When I got the Derby, Craven A Menthol at R100 per pack was the only other option available,” he said.

"The prices have been ridiculous, but you realise that smokers are actually willing to pay those prices, even though it does mean smoking a whole lot less as a result of the price. I quit for like 21 days while working up the courage to try and search for some illegally."

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