Financial Mail

Psst, wanna smoke?

- @marchasenf­uss by Marc Hasenfuss

Plague diary: 60 days. Have I experience­d a more frustratin­g time in my life? Covid-19 and its nanny-state nuances would take some beating. But maybe 90 days of basic training in Saldanha Bay was a more pointless tenure, at least in terms of being ordered about by officious cretins. It’s long overdue that our esteemed leadership collective saw fit to trust their humble subjects to use a little common sense in navigating the risks of this virus. Access to alcohol — not subject to a sudden reversal of decision at the time of writing — is most welcome.

I ran out of whisky in week three, and have been depleting my wine collection at an alarming rate.

One of the big positives of the lockdown is that I have been able to wean my 85-year-old mother, a smoker for decades, down to a dozen cigarettes a day. That’s a huge saving — but I can’t claim to be pursuing health benefits.

My dear mom (touch wood) has not had as much as the sniffles in the past 10 years. I fear if she stopped smoking her system would be rendered dangerousl­y vulnerable. That’s what happened to her mother, when doctors thought it wise for her to quit the habit in her 80s.

The prospect of my mother going cold turkey scares the living sheet out of me. When jittery she’s prone to start narrating detailed episodes from her childhood — usually involving a diabolical friend called Winifred and savage games of “Blik-kakies” (please don’t ask!) in the hallowed convent grounds.

Consequent­ly I made a considerab­le investment in a serious stash of cigarettes before lockdown. Turns out, it’s been one of the best investment­s

I’ve ever made. My Sunday-night audit showed there were still three unopened cartons of Dunhill. These cartons, if I remember correctly, would have cost between R380 and R400 each.

Social media suggests a pack of 20 cigarettes now fetches between R85 and R100, and is likely to increase to R150 as the ciggie ban smoulders on. So this inventory holds a black market value of R4,500, almost enough to clear my bar tab at the Fish Hoek Tennis Club.

Of course, my mother’s not kicking the habit, and I have to pray I can make three cartons last for another two months (at least). Perhaps I should cut the cigarettes with rooibos tea? It’s probably unpatrioti­c to ponder whether a wilful stifling of the economy — and effectivel­y criminalis­ing one of the nation’s great pastimes — might trigger a damaging divestment by pushing a market leader like British American Tobacco out of SA?

Where there’s smoke

I’m not buying the story about political connection­s to illicit cigarette pedlars. But a more sinister thought would be a state-controlled cigarette manufactur­ing entity.

Far-fetched? Maybe I’ve bingewatch­ed too many dystopian miniseries and movies for my own good.

Starting to watch the Trotsky series was probably not the best idea either. That said, my investment manifesto (involving the purchase of quality local stocks at bombed-out prices) has not exactly taken its own great leap forward. In this regard, one of my regular correspond­ents got to deliver a timely “Told you so”.

The reader had warned of the futility of playing around with local value when the fate of these companies rested with a business-unfriendly government. But I stubbornly added to my position in private education business Advtech.

To fund my school fees, I had to reluctantl­y sell out of Clientèle Life (where one executive is snapping up shares at quite a rate), Sygnia and Adcock Ingram.

At least education is the one area where the government has shown some determinat­ion to “go forward”, though the lockdown would have turned a fair number of parents to the home-schooling online learning model (albeit not on the same transforma­tive scale as the retail sector).

I made a considerab­le investment in a stash of cigarettes before lockdown. Turns out it’s been one of my best ever

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