How Coronavirus Concerns Are Affecting Tobacco Sales

Nicotine users may be stocking up as a precaution during COVID-19 outbreak
Photograph: Shutterstock

CHICAGO — For Clauvio Marquez, cigarettes are a necessity.

Marquez, an employee at Lee Car Wash in Chicago, which from the street is a prominent Shell station, Dunkin’ and convenience store, said cigarette sales during his night shift behind the register have risen noticeably. “That and Redbull,” he said at 6 a.m. March 17, the second day of a two-week shutdown of Illinois bars and restaurants because of coronavirus concerns.

“They get what they need to survive,” said Marquez, a 28-year-old cashier. “That’s how it is for me. I’m a smoker.”

Demand for other convenience-store merchandise had not increased in the obvious way tobacco and energy drinks had, Marquez said, at least not during his late-night shift.

While firm data has yet to emerge, similar anecdotes are coming from Los Angeles, where Danny Borghesani, an employee of Lincoln Tobacco Shop, told LAist that “business is super busy, nonstop, parking lots have been full. It’s crazy.”

On an average day, Borghesani will make $3,000. On March 16, he told the news source that the Friday before, he took in $9,500, mostly from cigarettes and vapes.

“If you have a pretty ravishing nicotine addiction and you can’t go out, a lot of people are going to stock up,” he said.

On March 16, officials from six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area asked residents to “shelter in place,” an order affecting 6.7 million people and shuttering most businesses until April 7.

While Illinois went ahead with its primary election March 17, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on March 15 ordered  all restaurants and bars to stop serving sit-down customers for two weeks.

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