14ymedio, Havana, July 29, 2021 – What was announced last June as an exceptional measure just for the capital, became the norm for the entire country this past Thursday: the sale of cigarettes will be rationed. This was reported by Tribuna de La Habana, which said that it has gotten to this point “due to problems with the availability of raw material.”
This shortage caused the Tabacuba Group to deliver “24 million fewer packs of cigarettes for one month,” according to information from the Ministry of Internal Trade.
The Minister of Commerce, Betsy Díaz Velázquez, explained to the official press that, although this is not a product that is part of the regulated family basket, its sale will be controlled due to “a monthly supply deficit of 37 million packs” in order to “prevent hoarding.”
The minister asserted that there are families, none of whose members smoke, who nevertheless buy cigarettes, which “affects” those who do smoke. Just like, though a bottle of wine is not a regulated product, the wine shops ask whether the buyer is the consumer of that product or not. Díaz insisted that as production from the factories and from Brascuba [the Brazilian/Cuban joint venture] decreased, prices in the market rose “due to speculation and hoarding;” so it was decided to regulate the sale of this product “as a containment measure.”
In the informal market a pack of the Criollos brand can cost up to 50 pesos each.
Díaz pointed out that though cigarettes are covered by the ration book “this does not mean that this is a product of the regulated family basket.”
The General Director of Merchandise Sales of the Ministry of Internal Trade, Francisco Silva Herrera, reiterated that the “interruptions in production” are due to difficulties “with the arrival of raw materials in Cuba.” He explained that for that reason the volume of cigarettes available for sale doesn’t meet 100% of the country’s demand, and pointed out that so far this month they have received only 34% of what the plan called for.
Silva Herrera said that, depending on the available supply in some provinces, they are going to limit sales to “a tiny amount” of packs per person, sometimes limiting them to people over age 19, or by family.
For months, Cubans have faced the dilemma of acquiring packs of cigarettes on the black market or buying them in stores which only take payment in foreign currencies (MLC). In the capital’s state-owned shops and cafes, the shortage gets worse every day and huge lines form.
“I buy in quantity. I pay 750 pesos for the H. Upmann wheel, which gives you 10 packs, otherwise it’s impossible to always have it on hand, because there are days when no matter how far you walk, you won’t find cigarettes of any kind for sale on the street,” Leonardo Felipe, a 26-year-old man told 14ymedio.
Added to the dilemma of not finding the desired cigarettes is the complaint of many smokers about the poor quality of the product. The flavors have changed, and sometimes the cigarettes come incompletely filled, or with little glue, so the filter separates from the rest.
Translated by Tomás A.
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