UCT study shows failure of lockdown cigarette ban

Published May 18, 2020


CAPE TOWN - With the sale of cigarettes prohibited, a UCT study released on Friday shows that smokers are still finding their way around lockdown regulations.

The study had been conducted by The Research Unity on the Economics of Excisable Products, based at UCT, between 29 April and 11 May 2020.

The study collected data via an online survey provided to smokers, with over 16 000 participants, to determine how they have responded to the ban of cigarettes sales and to further evaluate the impact of the ban on the cigarette market in South Africa.

“About 41% of smokers had attempted to quit smoking cigarettes during the lockdown. Of those who tried to quit, 39% had successfully quit at the time they completed the survey, while 61% of those who tried to quit, were unsuccessful.” According to the report, “Of smokers who successfully quit at the time of answering the survey, 12% intend to start smoking again after the cigarette sales ban is lifted.”

However, the study goes on to show that 90% of the smokers that took part in the survey was able and had purchased cigarettes during the lockdown. Due to availability, 46% of those smokers had switched to locally produced cigarettes by companies such as Gold Leaf Tobaccos, Best Tobacco Company and Carnilinx.

The report goes on to show that the percentage of smokers that buys cigarettes from spaza shops jumps from 34% to 44% and from house shops from 4% to 18%.

“Sales outlets that either did not exist, or that were inconsequential before the lockdown, but that became important sources of cigarettes during the lockdown include street vendors (26% of smokers), friends and family (30%), WhatsApp groups (11%), and “essential worker” acquaintances (10%).”

According to the study cigarettes prices varied across provinces, rural areas, townships and suburbs but found that just within the 13 days of the research the price of a pack of cigarettes increased by 4.4% each day meaning the average price increase sat at 53% and an increase of 90% per loose cigarette during the lockdown. Locally produced brands took the hardest hit per pack of 20 with 61% increase in pricing.

“While most of the respondents acknowledged that smoking is bad for their health, they felt that the sudden imposition of the sales ban, without any cessation support, caused them mental health problems because they were unable to smoke. Many respondents indicated increased anxiety, feelings of depression, being less focused, and experiences of physical withdrawal symptoms.” said the researchers.

“Our findings suggest that the ban on cigarette sales is failing in what it was supposed to do. While the original intention of the ban was to support public health, the current disadvantages of the ban may well outweigh the advantages.”

The researches concluded their study saying, “The current sales ban is feeding an illicit market that will be increasingly difficult to eradicate when the lockdown and the COVID-19 crisis is over. It was an error to continue with the cigarette sales ban into Level 4 lockdown. The government should lift the ban on cigarette sales as soon as possible.”

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