Smokers are fuming after learning that tobacco products will stay banned under level 3 lockdown.
They have been lighting up social media, questioning why the easing of lockdown will allow the sale of alcohol for home consumption but not cigarettes.
Meanwhile, the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) has taken the government to court over the ban.
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma tried to clear the air when she told the National Council of Provinces on Tuesday that as many as five people shared a single cigarette in poorer communities, raising the risk of spreading Covid-19. Smokers who caught Covid-19 were also more likely to need ventilation, she said, extolling the benefits of stopping smoking, including improved lung capacity and blood flow.
“If you stop smoking, in 12 hours, the carbon monoxide in your body drops to normality. In 22 weeks, your circulation improves and your lung function increases.”
Jeffrey Ngcwabe, 28, of Wynberg, has been a smoker for more than 10 years and has resorted to buying cigarettes on the black market during lockdown. There were certain spaza shops, he said, that were willing to sell cigarettes. “You just have to know the right one. I’ve found myself smoking cigarettes I’ve never smoked before because everything is so expensive. I used to get my pack of Stuyvesant or Camel Black for about R50, and now here I am buying an R18 pack of Caesar for R160. What nonsense is that? And they tell you at the shop it’s the suppliers that are making it so expensive.” The prices of black market cigarettes had risen every week under lockdown, forcing him to scratch tobacco from his stompies, he said.
“What I do is just dab the little entjie leftover. I make sure I don’t finish it. Then, when I’m desperate, I take all my stompies and I squeeze out the tobacco then I just roll them for myself, as if I was rolling a joint.
“The only problem is that it makes me cough at night. Smoking stompies isn’t good; I can feel it in my chest, so I make sure I sleep with my asthma pump next to me now for sure.”
Mr Ngcwabe said he had tried many times to quit but in vain.
He said he felt the government was trying to force smokers to quit, but he had learnt from his many attempts that someone had to make that decision for themselves. The cigarette ban was making more room for black market trade, he claimed. “I bought myself a hookah pipe, but every time I smoke it it just makes me want one (a cigarette) even more. Craving a smoke is painful. Do you know the feeling of a good smoke when you wake up in the morning? You even feel it in your toes as you pull, you won’t understand.”
He said that things were a bit better for him now that he had been reinstated to work – he is a contractor in Bellville – as restrictions eased. “They called us back two weeks ago. I was happy because I was bored of being at home.”
He has been drinking copious cups of tea during lockdown as the tea makes him sleepy and helps take his mind off cigarettes.
“I never thought in my life that I’d be drinking so much tea at 28.”