Cuban Smokers and Re-Sellers Blamed for Cigarette Shortages

By Daniel Benitez  (Cafe Fuerte)

Cigarettes and cigars on the product roster at a ration outlet in Sancti Spiritus. Photo: Escambray Newspaper
Cigarettes and cigars on the product roster at a ration outlet in Sancti Spiritus. Photo: Escambray Newspaper

HAVANA TIMES — Smokers in Cuba’s province of Sancti Spiritus continuously face cigarette and cigar shortages, but authorities insist it is not a manufacturing issue.

Despite good stocks at the warehouses that operate in these localities, cigarettes and cigars aren’t available at sale points many a time due to distribution issues and problems affecting coordination between different State companies, or so officials working in the sector insist.

A report published by the local newspaper Escambray demonstrated that the rise in the number of smokers and re-sellers is not the only factor that causes the instability of supplies in the retail network.

Deputy commercial manager for Sancti Spiritus’ Empresa Mayorista de Productos Alimenticios (EMPA) Jesus Vazquez Vazquez explained that the supplier is fulfilling the planned deliveries and that, in fact, certain brands have seen greater production than planned.

Hoarders and Consumers

According to this official, the cause of the shortages is to be found among hoarders and buyers, who are responsible for the exhaustion of the product in the market.

The piece of information that does not appear to have reached this executive’s office is the one having to do with distribution, a link in the chain that is evidently faulty and which has led the company to owe nearly five million Cuban pesos (250,000 USD) to the supplier for cigarettes and cigars purchased.

While smokers have to turn to the black market to satisfy their cravings, at the central warehouse of the company’s commercial unit 428, the head of this cigar, tobacco and matches storage facility confirms large inventories of several brands of cigarettes and more than 174,000 cigars, products that have been waiting to be distributed since April 30.

The numer of smokers in the province represents 13.89 percent of the total Sancti Spiritus’ population, a figure well above the national average.

However, what could be a simple procedure of sending the product to retail outlets requires that the warehouse contact the loading base to transport the goods and for the wholesale company to present a distribution plan, in writing. If these two processes aren’t done in unison, the cigarettes and cigars do not see the light of day.

The Run-Around

According to the report, though there was no more room left in the central warehouse to store the cigarette boxes, there are product shortages at street level, and officials pass on the blame like a hot potato.

The head of the Commercial Department of the UEB 428, Dayami Reyes, says that, when the request for transportation is made at the loading base in Sancti Spiritus, they reply “that they don’t have available vehicles, because they are either broken or still to be inspected.”

From his own trench, manager Jose Antonio Cambert Fonseca replies: “The means of transportation used to carry products is always prioritized; it’s the people at Unit 428 who don’t followed the established procedures. Between May 1 and 21, we received only three requests and, one of them, on the 19th, couldn’t be answered because, when they went to pick up the goods, they didn’t have the invoice ready.”

Thus, as people continue to look for someone to blame (and it appears that only smokers are to shoulder the burden), cigarettes and cigars continue to appear and disappear from the streets of Sancti Spiritus, despite the fact that, over the first four months of the year, nearly two million boxes or cartons have been delivered to the company, more than the number delivered in that period in 2014, executives at the Grupo Nacional Tabacuba report.

More than 70 percent of the tobacco sold in the province is manufactured by these local factories.

The Head Labor Office in Sancti Spiritus insists that the sale of cigarettes and cigars at unauthorized locales, such as hostels, private restaurants or cafeterias is in violation of self-employment laws.