Smokers stock up out of fear the government will reverse unbanning order

Spar employees can be seen selling cigarettes at a Spar in Centurion after the ban on tobacco products has been lifted, 18 August 2020, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

Smokers want to stock up as much as possible as they fear the government, as they did with liquor, will reinstate the ban at some point.

As the country entered Alert Level 2 of the lockdown on Tuesday morning, smokers went out and started searching for cigarettes after the almost five-month ban was lifted.

While cigarettes were freely available during the prohibition, it came at a steep cost, with some brands being more expensive and scarce.

At the Makro in Silverlakes, Pretoria, a number of people started queuing to buy their fix.

News24 spoke to several who were waiting to stock up.

One man, who did not want to be named, bought 10 cartons because he was afraid the government would reverse its decision.

He referred to the ban on liquor which was originally lifted on 1 June, but later reinstated without warning.

He was overwhelmed to be able to smoke his own brand, which had been far too expensive on the black market during the prohibition.

During the lockdown, he reverted to a cheaper brand of cigarettes.

“It feels like a New Years party being able to buy my brand again. I’ve already lit one and it tastes great,” the man said.

He said the 10 cartons cost him R3 000, a fraction of the price he had paid for the same amount of cigarettes on the illicit market.

Another man, who said he had initially quit years ago but started smoking again during the lockdown due to stress, added he wanted to stock up but could not afford it at this point.

While unable to buy in bulk, the man believed it was only a matter before the ban was reinstated.

One elderly woman, who also wanted to remain anonymous, told News24 the tobacco ban was extremely difficult on her and unfair.

While she could easily obtain cigarettes during the lockdown, she found they were expensive and a lot stronger than her usual brand.

“I lost a lot of money and it affected my health more than what my normal cigarettes do. I had to compromise and drill holes into the cigarettes,” she said.

She too had opted to stock up as her trust in the government was non-existent, fearing it could reverse its decision at any moment.

Other traders at petrol stations, bottle stores and supermarkets were also at the Makro to stock up on cigarettes as their orders from tobacco manufacturers had not yet arrived.

News24 earlier visited a number of petrol stations, most of which had not yet restocked.

This was largely due to issues around manufacturers waiting for the official publication of the gazetted regulations. There had been confusion as to the legality behind the transportation of tobacco products before the Alert Level 2 of the lockdown actually came into effect on Tuesday at 00:01.

One petrol station had been restocked before midnight, but at around 05:30, was already close to being sold out.

A cashier told News24 people had started visiting the shop after midnight and were buying in bulk.

News24 also spoke to a number of smokers who were driving around looking for cigarettes earlier on Tuesday morning.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Saturday evening the ban on the sale of tobacco products would be lifted.

On Monday, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma reaffirmed this, saying the sale of tobacco would be allowed and there would be no restrictions.

She said the government had decided to lift the ban because of the decrease in daily Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations.

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