Rise in cigarette prices brings Daraa smokers back to hand rolling method
Daraa – Halim Muhammad
In light of the deteriorating living conditions and the decline in purchasing power for a large segment of the residents of the southern Daraa governorate, some smokers in the Daraa governorate in southern Syria have resorted to reducing their consumption of smoking or finding less expensive alternatives, after the high cost of cigarette packs in the local market, whether local or imported or smuggled.
At the beginning of last August, the General Tobacco Corporation raised the prices of its National Tobacco products by approximately 40%, justifying this by “covering part of the costs,” after it raised it at the end of last year by approximately 50%. Back then, the selling prices of imported smoke rose by about 60%.
“Hand rolling” is less expensive
Abdul Rahman, 55, a resident of the town of Tal Shihab in the western countryside of Daraa, resorted to smoking Arabic tobacco (rolling) to reduce the cost, explaining to Enab Baladi that he consumes one pack of “smoke” daily (20 cigarettes).
The average price of one pack of foreign smoke is about 8,000 Syrian pounds, and of national smoke is about 6,500 Syrian pounds, while a kilo of Arabic tobacco (the rolling one) reaches about 100,000 Syrian pounds, the amount that suffices the fifty-something-year-old man for about a month and a half.
Enab Baladi monitored in Daraa, through street movement, that most smokers returned to smoking Arabic tobacco (hand rolling), and some of them started smoking the national (local) cigarettes after they had previously been foreign cigarette smokers, while a portion of the population still uses the cheap foreign cigarettes at a price of 8000 Syrian pounds per box.
From Lebanon, Pound low is behind the rise
Tobacco prices in regime-controlled areas have witnessed a noticeable increase, especially foreign cigarettes.
Ahmed, 30, a cigarette seller, said that prices began to rise coinciding with the collapse of the local currency, as the price of cigarettes, especially foreign cigarettes, is linked to fluctuations in the exchange rate of the dollar against the pound.
The trading rate of the Syrian pound against $1 reached 13,450, according to the S-P Today currency website.
According to Ahmed, smuggled cigarettes come to Daraa from Lebanon, in addition to transportation fees and what smugglers pay to security checkpoints in exchange for allowing the passage of the material, and then their price is determined accordingly.
As a result of the rise in prices, the percentage of sales of foreign cigarettes in the region declined, especially the luxury types, compared to the increase in the percentage of purchases of local types, which are cheaper in price.
Youssef, a cigarette merchant in the eastern countryside of Daraa, who declined to mention his full name for security reasons, told Enab Baladi, “Smuggled cigarettes enter secretly through illegal routes by armoring the car and hiding goods in hidden places and pockets.”
He added that if a quantity of cigarettes exceeding 12 packs is seized, the smuggler will be fined with imprisonment and pay three times the value of the seized cigarettes, and he will only be released when he pays this fine.
Regarding imported cigarettes in the governorate, Youssef explained that there is a single merchant in Daraa governorate who holds an agency (licensing) that allows him to pass cigarettes through security barriers, and no one other than the agent is allowed to transport cigarettes, whether national or imported, and this agent is considered the main source of tobacco in the governorate.
Most smokers in regime-controlled areas suffer from almost frequent increases in cigarette prices, which vary from one governorate to another, which forces them to constantly change the method and form of their consumption of the substance.
In May 2020, the Director of Planning at the General Tobacco Corporation, Salman al-Abbas, said that the number of smokers in regime-controlled areas (including smokers of local or legally imported products only) reached 4.5 million people, noting that the most consuming group is those between the ages of 20 and 40 year old, estimated at 60% of smokers.
Al-Abbas explained, in a press statement to al-Madina FM radio at the time, that Syria exports only half-processed raw tobacco while producing 11 types, and the value of its annual sales is estimated at 30 billion Syrian pounds, according to the latest figures issued by the Corporation.
Plan to double production
Daraa is considered one of the tobacco-producing governorates, as it returned after 2018 to producing tobacco that goes to the national tobacco industry.
Fadi Suweidan, head of the Agriculture Department and Scientific Research in the Southern Region of the Tobacco Foundation, told the official Syrian News Agency (SANA) last June that the plan of the Tobacco Division in Daraa for the current season is to cultivate 5,000 dunams, an increase of 100% over the last season, as it amounted to. The area cultivated with tobacco last year was about 2,200 dunams. (Dunam is about 900 m2)
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