Smoking and Quitting Behaviour in South Africa After the Tobacco Sales Ban: Results From A Third Survey

10 Dec 2020
10 Dec 2020

On 10 December 2020, REEP published a report entitled  “Back To Normal? Smoking and Quitting Behaviour in South Africa After the Tobacco Sales Ban: Results From A Third Survey”. 

This report is based on the results of a third online survey, conducted after the lifting of the sales ban on tobacco in August, between 16 September and 6 October 2020. Only those respondents to the second survey who had agreed to be contacted again were involved, giving a final group of 3 766 respondents who had completed both the second and third surveys.

Authored by Corné van Walbeek, Samantha Filby and Kirsten van der Zee, the report shows that of those surveyed, about 17% of respondents indicated that they had quit smoking during the lockdown. However, about half of those who had quit had started smoking again by the time they completed the survey. Says Van Walbeek: “It is unfortunate that such a large percentage has relapsed. It shows how addictive smoking is. Most smokers regret that they started smoking and want to quit. Research from around the world shows that most people try multiple times to quit smoking before they are ultimately successful.”

Nearly 40% of respondents indicated that they used other tobacco products during the sales ban. The most popular substitute product was roll-your-own tobacco, followed by electronic cigarettes, heated tobacco products and pipe tobacco.

In the report, REEP recommends that government increase the excise tax on tobacco products at the earliest opportunity. “The pricing strategy of the tobacco industry clearly shows that they can increase their revenues by increasing the price. The government can also increase their revenue, and reduce cigarette consumption, by increasing the excise tax on cigarettes. This will be a win for public health and a win for our severely constrained fiscus”, according to Van Walbeek.

An important proviso is that the South African Revenue Services and the enforcement authorities reduce the illicit trade in cigarettes. The illicit market was already substantial when the sales ban was imposed. The sales ban is likely to have entrenched some of the distribution channels for illicit cigarettes. “The World Health Organisation’s Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products was created to support countries in their efforts to reduce the illicit trade in cigarettes. South Africa should ratify this treaty and implement its provisions. South Africa should impose a track and trace system, completely independent from the tobacco industry, that allows the authorities to exercise more control over the movement of cigarettes. This will go a long way in reducing the illicit trade in cigarettes”, according to Van Walbeek.

This report follows on from our first report entitled “Lighting up the illicit cigarette market: Smokers’ responses to the cigarette sales ban in South Africa”, published on 15 May 2020, and our second titled “Smoking and Quitting Behaviour in Lockdown South Africa: Results from a second survey” published on 21 July 2020.

Read the report in full here.