Free State man on buying cigarettes from the black market: “I can’t quit”

People are finding it hard to cope without a smoke during lockdown. RETHABILE KHUMALO. (PHOTO: GALLO IMAGES)
People are finding it hard to cope without a smoke during lockdown. RETHABILE KHUMALO. (PHOTO: GALLO IMAGES)

When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the ban on cigarettes and other tobacco products would be lifted on 1 May as the country would be on level 4 of the lockdown, many smokers were happy that they would now be able to indulge in their favourite pastime.

Read more: Lockdown | Cigarettes, liquor still won't be for sale on Level 4

However, those festivities were short lived as just a week later, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma reserved it due to health concerns which will worsen the impact of coronavirus on citizens during this period.

This reversal of the decision left a bad taste in the mouths of not just smokers but the industry as a whole.

Some experts say even though the ban continues, it doesn’t guarantee that people are not smoking. They also pointed out that the black market is thriving, and the country’s economy is suffering from not collecting sin tax.

Free State-born Mbuyiswa Motaung who has been a smoker for almost 20 years says he still manages to satisfy his cravings through the black market.

Read more: If cigarette sales spread coronavirus, prove it – tobacco association

“I buy cigarettes every day, but it’s been very hard at times to find it,” he tells Move!.

“The guys selling the cigarettes have increased prices saying they’re adding more money because of the risk of being arrested and if I don’t want to buy it at the said price I must leave it,” he explains.

The 28-year-old says he’s had no choice but to cower to their demands because he can barely get by without his guilty pleasure.

READ | Cigarette ban could force 11 million smokers to seek illicit traders, industry warns

He is mindful that he’s overspending but it won’t take a lockdown for him to quit smoking because he’s tried on his own many times without much success.

“I know that I’m overspending but lockdown will not make me quit smoking, I can’t quit. I’ve tried myself many times and it hasn’t worked”.

He reveals that a single cigarette has gone from R2, 50 to R5 since the ban. He admits that it’s hitting him hard in the pocket because he’s unemployed and the number of taxis he usually washes per day has decreased.

Read more: SA's largest cigarette company drops proposed legal action against tobacco ban

How he manages to finance this has meant that he has to share one cigarette with an average of four people. When they can’t afford the R5 cigarette, they go for the cheap illegal products which go for about R3 when they were just R1 before the ban.

“We all put whatever we have just so we can buy a few loose fags [single cigarettes]. It’s better as a sort of stokvel,” he shares, laughing.

When Move! enquires about the health implications this sharing might have, the man says it’s pointless to run away from this virus because either way he will eventually get it.

Read more: Ban on cigarette, liquor sales costing R1.5bn in lost tax revenue – Kieswetter

“I know that coronavirus spread by touch and all that, but what am I going to do because I need to smoke and it’s more expensive now for me to smoke alone. The coronavirus might or might not get me from sharing a cigarette but it might get me when getting change from the shop or going to the toilet. So, it will get me,” he explains.

All he wants is for government to lift the ban on tobacco products to ease the burden on smokers and the government can get its taxes.

“Government collects his billions in taxes and smokers indulge themselves and the economy grows. Everybody wins,” he concludes.