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Smokers pay higher price for cigarettes during lockdown

Most smokers have been able to purchase cigarettes during the lockdown period.

Most smokers have been able to purchase cigarettes during the lockdown period.

Published May 16, 2020


CAPE TOWN - Most smokers have been able to purchase cigarettes during the lockdown period, according to a recent research report published by a research unit at the University of Cape Town.

However, smokers have had to pay a substantially higher price for these cigarettes. Many smokers have had to purchase other unfamiliar brands, as their favourite brands were often unavailable during the lockdown.

According to Professor Corné van Walbeek, the director of the Research Unit on the Economics of Excisable Products, they performed an online survey, which was completed by more than 16 000 respondents between April 29 and May 11.

About 41% of respondents indicated that they had tried to quit during the lockdown period, and 39% of these were successful. Most of the people that quit during the lockdown had tried quitting previously.

It seems that, at least for them, the ban on cigarette sales has been very effective. Only 12% of respondents that had quit smoking successfully indicate that they will start smoking when they can buy cigarettes again.

While, more than 90% of smokers bought cigarettes during the lockdown, despite the ban on tobacco sales.

According to Van Walbeek, the distribution network through which smokers buy their cigarettes has changed considerably. Whereas formal retailers were the dominant outlets for cigarettes before the lockdown (56%), they have all but disappeared during the lockdown (3%).

The number of people using street vendors has risen from 3% before the lockdown to 26% during the lockdown, while the proportion of people relying on house shops has risen from 4% to 18%.

Meanwhile, 4% of survey respondents indicated that they had purchased their cigarettes through ‘drug dealers’, ‘cigarette smugglers’ or ‘black market traders’.

In line with the proliferation of street vendors, the percentage of people purchasing single cigarettes has more than tripled during the lockdown period.

The research team found that the prices reported by respondents were increasing, even during the time the survey was being conducted. They found that the price of cigarettes increased by an average of 4.4% per day over the 13 days of the survey.

In the space of two weeks, the average price has increased by more than 50%.

“Such increases in the price of cigarettes are consistent with hyper-inflation. The fact that prices are increasing so rapidly indicates that the cigarette market is in absolute chaos.

"Smokers are desperate and are willing to pay exorbitant prices to get their fix, even if it is of an unknown source,” says Van Walbeek.

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