FAKE news on a radio station and social media professing that the Namibian Government intends to ban the sale of cigarettes fuelled a surge of panic buying that left the tobacco and cigarette counters at many shops emptied out.
To give impetus to the rumour, people stated that the Pick n Pay branch they went to in town have received a letter that prohibits the sale of cigarettes to customers. It was said the letter came from the retail giant’s head office in South Africa where the government has banned the sale of tobacco and related products.
At least one radio station in Windhoek picked up on the rumour and once the story was broadcasted, smokers across Namibia rushed to shops to buy as many packets of cigarettes as they could afford. The panic buying continued on Friday which meant that only a few packets of certain tobacco brands were left on the shop shelves.
One shop manager in Walvis Bay said that he had to field hundreds of phone calls from worried customers that implored him to keep a carton or two of their favourite brand of cigarettes to one side for them as soon as the fake news story started spreading.
“It was crazy, but because we value their patronage, we tried as far as possible to accommodate them. The problems started when we had to tell some of the customers that we do not have any of a certain brand left on our shelves, cupboards or even in our stock room,” he said.
Another shop owner said the run on cigarettes was overwhelming because of the huge number of people that suddenly descended on his business He said a long queue of customers formed outside on the pavement while those who already paid for their smokes walked out of the shop with two or three cartons per person.
At another supermarket the owner said that he has been struggling to get certain brands of cigarettes from supply companies.
“I have put in several orders over the past two weeks, but we did not receive any cigarettes from the main supply companies. My questions with regards to the lack of supply have remained unanswered,” he said.
In the meantime Roux-ché Locke, the Group Manager: Corporate Communications of the Ohlthaver & List Group of Companies under which Pick n Pay in Namibia resorts, said that no such letter has been sent out to any of the retailer’s branches in Namibia.
“It is a vicious rumour that possibly caused some financial losses at some of the shops in the O&L stable,” Locke said.
The panic buying of cigarettes and other tobacco products in Namibia follows the worldwide run on toilet paper during the middle of March when people for no apparent reason stocked up on stupendous amounts of the commode commodity.