REEP Project Researchers: Prof Corné van Walbeek, Dr Hana Ross, Ms. Nicole Vellios, Mrs Kirsten van der Zee, Ms. Samantha Filby, Mr. Zunda Chisha and Mr. Senzo Mthembu.

Project Partners: African Capacity Building Foundation

Improvement of public policy on tobacco taxation to counter illicit trade in tobacco products in Sub-Saharan Africa: Purpose

REEP (formerly Economics of Tobacco Control Project) has a long history of researching the economics of tobacco control by supporting governments, civil society/public health organisations and think tanks in implementing better excise tax systems and raising the excise tax. REEP has also done research on illicit trade, quantifying the size of the illicit market in various countries and designing systems to reduce tax avoidance/evasion. Since 2012, this research was made possible primarily through funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This support has been channelled through the (African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) since 2015. With the intervention and support of the ACBF, REEP has been able to reach countries in Africa. Policy change is the result of a long process, and it would be inappropriate for us to claim a causal role in this process, but through workshops, research support, and mentoring of African-based researchers and policy makers we believe that REEP has contributed to better tax systems, higher taxes and better tobacco control policies in some SSA countries.

Much work still needs to be done in Africa. The fact that 16 of the 40 countries that ratified the protocol on Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products (ITP) are SSA countries indicates that governments in SSA take the threat of illicit trade seriously and that they want to address the problem. Tobacco taxes in the WHO African region are still very low (despite some increases in the past few years); only in the Eastern Mediterranean region are excise taxes lower than in the African region (Van Walbeek and Filby, 2018). In many countries, the governments simply do not have the means to counter the narrative of the tobacco industry. There is a great need for knowledge, data, research and advocacy in the area of tobacco control, and specifically in the area of tobacco taxation and countering illicit trade in tobacco products. Through this grant, and with partners across the continent, we want to continue to address this need.

The Research

The ACBF grant aims to provide a sustainable funding stream for REEP at UCT to enable the unit to improve public policy on tobacco taxation and to counter illicit trade in tobacco products in Sub-Saharan Africa. The specific objectives are:

  1. To build research capacity for evidence generation in the economics of tobacco control to influence policy change; and
  2. To improve the institutional performance of REEP as a research unit in delivery of tobacco taxation and illicit trade

In line with the overall goal of the project and with respect to the first objective, the unit endeavours to undertake the following activities:

  1. Provide funding for postgraduate students at UCT;
  2. Provide funding for postgraduate students at the University of Namibia;
  3. Conduct workshops on the economics of tobacco control focused on tobacco taxation and illicit trade in tobacco products; and
  4. Conduct price data collection in African countries. 

Under the second objective, the unit will focus on enhancing its internal capacity. The first goal has already been attained, namely, REEP becoming an independent research unit within UCT (in July 2019). Other aspects include hiring of staff (as required), implementation of staff development programmes, and procurement of appropriate ICT equipment.