No cigarettes in Kuwait!

Muna Al-Fuzai

If you are a smoker or have a smoker in the family or a friend, then they must have complained to you about the disappearance of cigarettes from cooperatives and grocery stores in Kuwait. Why did the cigarettes disappear? How much truth is there in rumors that cigarette traders are refusing to provide stores with cigarettes? Will the prices really rise? What has caused this sudden disappearance?

It has been widely mentioned that cigarette companies in Kuwait have taken preparations to increase cigarette prices, while certain brands of cigarettes have disappeared from markets and grocery stores, and have thus opened up a black market! And prices of most brands of cigarettes have increased by 100 to 200 fils.

Some smokers are complaining that cigarette traders have intentionally blocked the supply of cigarettes since the past 15 days in preparation to raise prices. Is this true? I hope not, because Kuwait has postponed the application of VAT until 2019, and we are only in Feb 2018.

If so, then it’s not for the first time. In 2015, a similar thing happened and provoked angry campaigns on social media. At that time, smokers denounced cigarette shops for hoarding large quantities of cigarettes and clearing the shelves in anticipation of an official announcement to raise prices. Some sellers sold cigarettes at higher prices, and this is happening again.

I understand that cigarette prices in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are rising due to the new tax system, but in Kuwait the tax has not been implemented yet. Many smokers see the trend towards higher cigarette prices to the benefit of tobacco traders, because smokers will not stop smoking.

I do not smoke, but I follow the subject as my son is a smoker and his friends are too. They have been making futile rounds of grocery stores all around the country in search of cigarettes. I too have made some rounds to find that cigarettes have really disappeared. I wonder why? It is said the reasons for the scarcity of cigarettes in the country is due to mass purchases by citizens of other Gulf countries, because prices here are cheaper compared to their countries. So they have created a cigarette crisis.

I have read reports that the borders between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have witnessed the confiscation of thousands of cigarette cartons. In November 2017, Al-Rai daily published a report showing images of large quantities of cigarettes smuggled by Saudis that were confiscated because the prices of tobacco increased there.

Many Kuwaitis are suffering in the search of their favorite brands, which have become so rare that some markets have banned the sale of more than two packs per person. Customs authorities have also stepped up inspection campaigns. The director of the Kuwaiti land customs assured that coordination with Saudi customs is ongoing to prevent smuggling at ports, except within the limits of personal use.

I think this disappearance of cigarettes in Kuwait has reflected negatively on the Kuwaiti market, and prompted the General Administration of Customs to tighten control over land ports and the airport, where instructions were issued to prevent the exit of more than one small carton with each car.

The fact is that the majority of shops are empty of cigarette packs. The owners think that discussions between the Ministry of Commerce and cigarette agents are currently underway, and may end soon. I think this is a temporary crisis, but I cannot find a justification for the rise in prices at some stores, even if it is only 100 fils. I hope that the commerce ministry will intervene to end this crisis now and for good and prevent its recurrence by controlling prices and punishing those who disregard the ministry’s regulations, or such incidents will recur.

By Muna Al-Fuzai

This article was published on 17/02/2018