By early afternoon on Day 1 of South Africa’s Alert Level 2, smokers across large swathes of South Africa were reporting trouble finding their preferred big-name tobacco brands, including Camel, Marlboro, Chesterfield, Dunhill, and Peter Stuyvesant.
But other than a handful of complaints relating to specific booze brands, drinkers were not facing the same struggle, and liquor stores said they were easily keeping up with what one described as “strongly enhanced demand”.
Alcohol sales appeared to be following roughly the usual pattern in the split between beer, wine, and spirits, with what one owner characterised as people restocking depleted supplies rather than stocking up to guard against future trouble, such as another alcohol prohibition.
The reopening of booze sales in the middle of the month – when South Africans tend not to be swimming in spare cash – may also have contributed to somewhat muted demand.
Likewise, smaller outlets (both for on-premises consumption, such as restaurants, and off-sales such as shebeens) were conspicuously absent as customers on Tuesday morning, said one distributor. He speculated that some had not survived lockdown, while others may have to sell off their existing stock first before they’ll have the cash to repurchase.
None of that was true for cigarettes, though, which saw a very brisk trade in indeed, especially on the big brands that had been running low on the black market.
News24 found that some petrol stations and local stores had sold out by early morning, while Netwerk24 reported on stock-outs and per-customer limits among other stores.
Cigarette companies had been preparing for the lifting of the ban since June, but could accept only “holding orders”, rather than actually delivering stock before sales were legal again.
Unlike drinkers, smokers appeared worried about the prospect of a new prohibition, should a second wave of Covid-19 hit South Africa, with bulk-buying prevalent – and “many” buyers asking for cartons rather than single boxes.
Government this week formally abandoned the idea of differentiated lockdown levels, with tougher restrictions in coronavirus hotspots, saying South Africa is too geographically integrated for such an approach.