DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Cigarette smokers continue to find it hard to buy their favorite brands here and in other parts of Southern Mindanao as of Thursday as most wholesalers and retailers claim there was still scarcity of supply.
Major cigarette brands started to disappear from stores shortly after Christmas, less than a week before the Sin Tax Law came into effect.
The department manager of a major mall and grocery store here, which has branches in various Mindanao and Visayas areas, said they had ran out of stock and that their sources had indicated early on that supplies would be available by next week yet.
“All our branches in Mindanao and Visayas have no stocks now,” the manager, who declined to give her name due to lack of authority to speak on the matter, said.
She said not only cigarettes have disappeared from their inventory but alcoholic drinks as well, such as the more popular Emperador Lights and Tanduay Rhum.
“By next week, the supply could return to normal but the prices would be higher than usual,” the manager said.
She said the price increase was caused by the implementation of the Sin Tax Law.
In another mall here, which sold Marlboro Red 20s at P308 per ream (one ream contains 10 packs) before Christmas, stocks started to show up Thursday.
But a price check revealed that per ream now sells at P400.40.
A cashier told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the stocks were new and were being sold based on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.
Renier, 40, a smoker for more than 20 years now, said buying from big grocery stores was cheaper for him but it was difficult to find his brand.
He said his cigarette brand, Fortune, was being sold at the neighborhood store for P1.65 per stick or P33 per pack, up P18 from last month’s P15 per pack.
“I still buy. I can’t stand [not] smoking especially after eating,” Renier, a government worker, said with a wide grin.
David Selma, a barber, said he had been trying to shift to cheaper brands since his brand, Philip Morris, became so expensive.
From last year’s P40 per pack at a store near his shop, Philip Morris now sells at P55 per pack.
“I have tried Bowling Green menthol and still could not adjust, but it’s far cheaper at P30 per pack,” he said.
Francis Balong, another smoker, said he was surprised on Christmas Day to find his cigarette brand suddenly gone from the shelves of a favorite grocery store.
“I bought one pack in the morning and returned before sunset to buy another pack, only to find out they had no more stocks, including that of other brands. That was unbelievable because when I bought one in the morning, they still had a lot of cigarettes on display,” Balong said.
He said he suspected that the store had withdrawn the cigarettes from display in anticipation of the price increase this month. “Maybe they hid their stocks,” Balong said.
Internal Revenue chief Kim Henares had admitted during an interview by a Manila-based radio station on January 1 that the disappearance of cigarettes and alcoholic drinks from store shelves could be blamed on hoarding by some retailers.
“Actually they took advantage. Some people, what they did, they purchased and stockpiled projecting that there would be an increase in prices on January 1,” she said.
In an interview later by ANC, Henares bared that the Sin tax Law did not cover prior stocks. “Only new stocks delivered by manufacturers,” she said.
But while retailers have started to make a killing from selling stocks they bought cheaper last month at a much higher price these days, Henares admitted that the government cannot run after them.
“Cigarettes and alcohol are not considered basic commodities so there is no price control for such products. Nobody can be held liable for hoarding as far as these are concerned,” she said.
Henares said the only thing the government can do is to tax them based on their declared income from selling these items.