14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 28 September 2021 — In the rest of the world, tobacco affects the coronavirus, but in Cuba it is the other way around: the coronavirus has ended up affecting tobacco. According to the authorities, the factory that sells Criollos cigarettes in Holguín has barely been able to meet 33% of the delivery agreed for the month of September due to problems derived from imported raw material, but also due to the incidence of covid-19 in the production plant.
The scarcity has turned this national brand, known among Cubans for its low quality, which earned it the name of “breastbreaker,” into an object of desire that has put its price through the roof. Currently, a person can pay more than 120 pesos for a pack.
“The other day they stopped me on the street to offer me a box of Criollos and I asked for how much. They told me: ’150 pesos’. And I said: ’Are you crazy?’,” Ever says. This Havanan, who has been smoking for about 20 years, remembers when the maligned brand barely cost 7 pesos.
“They were of terrible quality, they were badly glued, stained, but they were a solution for those of us who worked in the state sector and earned just over 310 pesos [a month],” he says.
Private sector workers, with greater purchasing power, could afford to buy better brands, but the shortage has reached all cigarettes. The situation has kept Cuban smokers on permanent alert in recent months.
The lines that form every time the released product goes on sale are among the most violent, according to the neighbors themselves. Although most buyers, rather than smokers, tend to be resellers.
Las colas para comprar cigarrillos en La Habana siguen levantando pasiones, provocando peleas y aglomerando a cientos de personas en medio del desabastecimiento del producto, otrora uno de los símbolos del país. #CrisisCuba #HabanaSinHabanos #NoHayTabaco #FumarDañaLaSalud pic.twitter.com/rdTtxEfywi
— 14ymedio (@14ymedio) September 28, 2021
“For example, the Popular cigarette package is resold on the street for 800 and 1,000 pesos and a single pack of H.Upmann costs up to more than 100,” a Havana woman told this newspaper just 15 days ago.
In the case of the Criollos, Ever says, prices have multiplied in a matter of days, although they are still the most affordable. “One day they cost 40 or 50 pesos, the next they were already 80, then 100 and then 120,” he laments. Those with special flavors, such as mentholated or red fruit, and the ’light’ ones can reach 350 pesos.
In June, the sale of cigarettes was rationed in Havana, initially limited to 16 packs per consumer, which ended up being cut in half. At that time, what was missing was acetate, one of the raw materials “decisive for finishing,” in addition to machinery breakdowns.
The measure was extended to the whole country a few days later and then, the head of the Ministry of Internal Trade, Betsy Díaz Velázquez, explained that, although it is not a product that is part of the regulated family basket, its sale will be controlled, due to the “deficit relative to the monthly demand amounting to 37 million packs” to “avoid hoarding.”
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