REEP lockdown study published extensively in the SA media

28 May 2020
28 May 2020

Between 29 April and 11 May 2020, members of REEP conducted an online survey among smokers to determine how they responded to the ban on cigarette sales during the lockdown, and to evaluate how the lockdown has impacted the market for cigarettes in South Africa. The survey was completed by more than 16 000 respondents, and the final cleaned sample consisted of 12 204 responses.
On the 15th of May, we released the findings of the survey to the public in a report entitled Lighting up the illicit market: Smokers’ responses to the cigarette sales ban in South Africa. The report, co-authored by Corné van Walbeek, Sam Filby and Kirsten van der Zee, gained much media attention. Our findings appeared on the front page of the Sunday Times, in over 30 online newspapers, and the co-authors appeared in over ten radio/TV interviews. See below for the comprehensive news clippings list.
The study showed one major public health gain; about 16% of the 12 204 respondents had successfully quit smoking cigarettes during the lockdown. However, for the remaining smokers, we observed only a minor reduction in cigarette consumption per day. Around 90% of the non-quitting respondents had purchased cigarettes during the lockdown. The market for cigarettes changed considerably during the lockdown: the majority of smokers shifted brand. The market changed from being dominated by multinational companies (mainly BAT) to being fragmented and dominated by brands manufactured by local/regional producers. We further found that the ban created a boom in the informal retail sector, since formal retailers seem to be refraining from selling cigarettes, in line with government regulations. Smokers tended to buy cigarettes from outlets such as spaza shops and street vendors, and unusual platforms like “family and friends”, “WhatsApp groups” and “online”, have grown in prominence.
The data suggest that the ban on cigarette sales is failing in what it set out to do. While a small proportion of smokers have been motivated to quit, most have continued to smoke and purchase cigarettes. The ban may well have undone the progress the South African Revenue Service had made in reducing illegal cigarettes prior to lockdown. It has given illicit traders a larger foothold in the cigarette market, and has created an opportunity for these traders to develop their distribution channels.
Our report warns that the ban could be setting up an illicit market for survival well beyond the coronavirus outbreak, and advises government to expeditiously lift the ban on the sale of tobacco products. We indicate in the report that the extension of the ban on tobacco sales as the country moved from Level 5 to Level 4 of the lockdown was an error. Extending the ban as the country moves from Level 4 to Level 3 perpetuates the error. After lifting the ban, government should strengthen its tobacco control policy to better-align with the provisions of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.
A variety of media outlets covered the report; two fairly representative media articles can be found at the Sunday Times, and

Online News outlets

15 May 2020

16 May 2020

17 May 2020

18 May 2020

19 May 2020

21 May 2020

22 May 2020

TV Interviews

  •  16 May: Sam Filby on eNCA Nightline @ 19h35
  • 17 May: Corné van Walbeek on eNCA @ 11h35, and on Newzroom @ 21h45

Radio Interviews