File picture: Pixabay
File picture: Pixabay

Majority of smokers have bought cigarettes during the lockdown - study

By Sameer Naik Time of article published May 16, 2020

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Johannesburg - Despite the ban on the sale of cigarettes, it seems like the majority of smokers in the country have found a way to get their fix during lockdown.

This is according to a research report released this week by the University of Cape Town.

The report, which was released yesterday, has shown that more than 90% of smokers have bought cigarettes during the lockdown, despite the ban on tobacco sales.

But smokers have had to pay a substantially higher price and many have had to purchase other unfamiliar brands, as their favourite brands were often unavailable.

During the lockdown, essential services retailers and petrol station stores have been banned from selling alcohol and cigarettes. The government has justified the ban on studies showing that smoking can make people more susceptible to serious complications from a Covid-19 infection.

The Research Unit on the Economics of Excisable Products at UCT, headed by Professor Corné van Walbeek, performed an online survey, which was completed by more than 16000 respondents. The aim was to understand smokers’ behaviour during the lockdown period.

“Our unit has a strong public health focus and our research is often in conflict with the tobacco industry’s rhetoric. We do objective and rigorous research. We did not do this study to take sides with any grouping; we simply wanted to understand what was going on in smokers’ lives," said Van Walbeek.

The survey, which was conducted between April 29 and May 1, showed that 41% of respondents indicated they had tried to quit and 39% were successful. Most of the people who quit had tried quitting previously.

Only 12% who had quit smoking successfully indicated they will start smoking when they can buy cigarettes again.

The research also showed that in the first two weeks of the lockdown, average consumption increased to 11 cigarettes, but after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the two-week extension to the lockdown on April 9, average consumption decreased to nine cigarettes per day.

According to Van Walbeek the distribution network through which smokers buy their cigarettes has also changed considerably.

Whereas formal retailers were the dominant outlets for cigarettes before the lockdown (56%), they have all but disappeared during the lockdown (3%). The number of people using street vendors has risen from 3% before the lockdown to 26%, while the proportion of people relying on house shops has risen from 4% to 18%.

Meanwhile 4% of survey respondents indicated that they had bought theirs through “drug dealers”, “smugglers”, or “black market traders”.

Van Walbeek believes that the ban is failing in what it was supposed to do.

“While the original intention of the ban was to support public health, the reality right now is that the disadvantages of the ban greatly outweigh the advantages.

“People are buying cigarettes in large quantities. While one should not exaggerate the revenue potential of excise taxes on tobacco products, since it contributes only 1 percent of total government revenue, it is foolish to not collect that revenue."

The Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs did not respond to queries last night.

The Saturday Star

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