Smokers get their fix from gutter stompies as black market bites

With cartons of black market cigarettes - even 'cheapie' local brands - now selling for R1,100 and more, desperate smokers are looking for their fix wherever they can find it.
With cartons of black market cigarettes - even 'cheapie' local brands - now selling for R1,100 and more, desperate smokers are looking for their fix wherever they can find it.
Image: GINA SANDERS / 123RF

Co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma believes the tobacco ban can help people stop smoking, but judging by smoking behaviour in East London, that is a pipe dream.

With cartons of black market cigarettes — even “cheapie” local brands — now selling for R1,100 and more, desperate smokers are looking for their fix wherever they can find it, reports DispatchLIVE. And a lot of the time that is in the street or gutter.

In Nompumelelo township in Beacon Bay, East London, those who cannot afford to buy tobacco products on the black market collect half-smoked cigarettes discarded by others.

They have resorted to scavenging for smokes, but say many East London spaza shops were still selling loose cigarettes for between R5 and R7 each.

Olwethu “Oscar” Mbulali, from Nompumelelo said he had smoked for more than 20 years and he would rather catch the coronavirus than kick his habit.

He said he had spent time in prison, and even that had not stopped him.

“I wash cars for a living so I usually get free food and smokes from customers at shopping malls,” said Mbulali.  

“In prison, I would smoke once in three days maybe, but outside I don't have to worry about that because rich people still buy cigarettes and they only smoke half of it and throw away the rest. I just collect all the stompies I can find, and smoke free of charge,” Mbulali said.   

He called the tobacco ban “useless”.

Malibongwe Nobanda, who lives in Ducats township but is a regular in Beacon Bay looking for work, said he started smoking in 1999.

He said quitting cigarettes was an “uphill battle” that he would rather not bother with.

“I've smoked a lot of things in my life, but I managed to stop using drugs. The cigarette is another story because I can't go a day without smoking at least four. But a single 'fake cigarette' can cost you R5 to R7. So I sometimes have to share cigarettes with my friends who could be carrying the coronavirus. It's a risky business but what other choice do I have? We can't afford to buy and we are used to smoking.”

Cogta minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on May 28 2020 announced the rules and regulations under level 3 of SA's Covid-19 lockdown. Alongside trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel, the ministers outlined what would stay the same and what would change for the country. Here’s what you need to know about lockdown level 3.

Justin Solomon, from Nompumelelo, is another who is relying on the stompie economy.

“This is punishment to us (smokers) because we are poor already and now the government is taking away something that we could afford. So we have no choice but to collect the stompies to smoke. We are not proud of it but we don't have options and it if that makes us sick, so be it.”

Jake Malloy, of Chintsa, said he was buying his cigarettes from the black market and Dlamini-Zuma had no right to dictate to smokers.

“I'm sharing zols with my friends and I'm angry because I've been smoking for 30 years. Now this crazy woman from Cogta says if I stop smoking for one month then my lungs will get better and I won’t need a ventilator should I get infected with Covid-19, but that's absurd.  

“Stopping smoking for two weeks or months won’t change the state of my lungs,” added Malloy.

On Thursday, cardiologist and antismoking researcher, Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos told a national radio station that there was no evidence that smoking would increase the transmission of the coronavirus as previously stated by Dlamini-Zuma.

Farsalinos said he could not understand why SA had banned the sale of cigarettes.

“There is zero evidence that smoking will propagate or is in some way increasing the transmission of coronavirus,” said Farsalinos.

“In fact, banning smoking in a pandemic can have very adverse effects.”

On Wednesday, Dlamini-Zuma submitted an affidavit to the Pretoria high court, which stated that banning the sale of tobacco during the lockdown was aimed at “protecting human life, health and reducing the potential strain on the health care system”. 

-DispatchLIVE


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