The 8 million Argentinean smokers are already suffering from it. The shortage of cigarettes 30 days after the start of the quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic is increasingly evident and by the end of the week the stock could be exhausted, according to warnings from tobacco companies and businesses. Already a month ago, the two main cigarette manufacturers (British American Tobacco and Massalin Particulares) asked the government to exempt the activity, in a letter where they already warned about “shortages of products in different points of the commercial chain. The situation for the kiosks is more dramatic since “cigarettes represent an average of 35% of turnover,” said Adrian Palacios, head of the UKRA, the main chamber of the sector, to Clarín.
Industry sources agree that the best-selling brands are almost gone: Marlboro, Philip Morris, Chesterfield, Rothmans, Camel and Lucky Strike account for about 70% of the market. Tobacco companies agree that they have almost no products and that what little there is is distributed in droplets to distributors and wholesalers. “The production part has been stopped since March 20th. The scarce merchandise we have is being rationed by brand combos, because we also have logistical problems in distributing because of the smaller number of employees,” said British American Tobacco. The company has paralyzed its plant in Pilar (with its 300 workers in quarantine) and has been demanding its reopening at all levels of government: city hall, governor’s office and the national government. For now, there is no response.
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Palacios, from UKRA, estimated that without cigarettes, around 10,000 kiosks could go bankrupt in the short term, representing 10% of the country’s total. “It is the most profitable product and also boosts sales of other items,” said the executive. According to the Ministry of Agribusiness, in 2019 1,658 million bundles of 20 units were dispatched, worth $ 135,101 million.
Protests by smokers are on the rise, mainly through social networks. First were the complaints about the lack of brands in their formats with greater demand, but the grumpiness is spreading because they are also finishing the alternative versions. The Chamber of Tobacco, by letter, raised with the Government the difficulties of the paralysis of the activity. “Our sector provides employment to more than 200,000 people directly, and more than 1,000,000 people depend, directly and indirectly, on tobacco production,” they said in a letter that landed at the Ministry of Production Development, led by Matías Kulfas.
To illustrate the problem, the country’s two main cigarette manufacturers stressed that “the shortage of cigarettes in local businesses undermines the desired objective of social isolation, since it encourages smokers to move around different kiosks in search of cigarettes.
From Massalin Particulares they assure that the steps to reopen the plants at all levels are intensified with the support of the three tobacco provinces: Salta, Jujuy and Misiones. In the industry they point out that there is almost no stock left. And they calculate that if they resume production, “in 48 hours we could have product” and “in a week the situation would be normalized. That is, to respond to requests from wholesalers, distributors, service station chains and kiosks, with all brands and sizes of packages.