Amid lockdown, Mumbai's smokers, drinkers pay double for their daily fix of nicotine, alcohol

Updated: Mar 31, 2020, 08:26 IST | Gaurav Sarkar | Mumbai

People have been paying underground bootleggers, paanwallahs exorbitant sums to get daily dose of alcohol, cigarettes during the 21-day lockdown

Smokers and drinkers across Mumbai are paying thousands of rupees to trusted bootleggers, sources, and neighbourhood paanwallahs for their daily fix of nicotine and alcohol during the 21-day national lockdown to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic that has so far taken the lives of 29 Indians in the country — with Maharashtra itself accounting for nine of the lost lives.

Although most grocery stores in well-to-do neighbourhoods had their stock of cigarettes for the first few days of the lockdown, it was soon depleted, leaving smokers in a sticky spot without their daily fix of nicotine, given that the regular cigarette shops/paanwallahs are forced to remain closed during the lockdown. The non-availability of cigarettes has caused their price to sky rocket to a minimum of R500 for a pack of 20 sticks — which is almost double of what the MRP is (usually it is R330 for a pack).

'An essential product'
"I have always been paranoid of running out of cigarettes, and had initially stocked up during the lockdown announced by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, but things started going really crazy once Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the national lockdown," said a Ghatkopar resident, who has bought cigarettes worth R52,000 so far during the 21-day lockdown from one of the local shops. They were delivered to her home. "A packet that usually costs R300 is now being sold for more than R500," she explained, adding that that during the first few days of the lockdown, she bought her cartons for R4,000 each, but the next time the price was hiked up to R4,500. "These cartons usually cost not more than R2,500 during normal days." She added, "Indian cigarettes are not coming into the market right now, which is why the black market is being forced to sell only imported cigarettes that are anyway illegal to sell since they are duty free."

"I am all right with paying a premium markup for the next three months since I am not stepping out of my house and therefore don’t have any expenditure at coffee shops or for fuel. I have been a smoker for 15 years…it has become an essential product for me," she said.

‘Paying over 200% more’
Many people who live in Andheri, Bandra, Borivli and Malad, said that they are paying anywhere between R550 and R700 for a pack of cigarettes (20 sticks). "I paid R30 for a stick of Marlboro in Santacruz," said a person. Furthermore, even though local paanwallahs are shut, most of them are still seen sneakily skulking outside their shops, selling cigarettes to potential buyers under the radar.

The price hike, when it comes to alcohol, seems to be much steeper. A resident of Kalina mid-day spoke to said that he had bought a quarter of Blender’s Pride whiskey for R700. "That is double the usual price," he said, adding that he had to go into a local bar via its kitchen to make the pick-up. Another person mid-day spoke to, said.

"We managed to get a bottle of Royal Stag in Andheri for R4,000…it seems to the be the going rate. Any bottle you buy costs more than 200% of its original price." Some people further pointed out that two of the most reliable late-night bootleggers — one located in Bandra and the other new Juhu circle — were functioning "as per their normal routine."

Rs 52k
Amount a resident spent on ciggies in lockdown

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