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Smokers are struggling to quit despite 250% price increase

CAPE TOWN – UCT Research Unit on the Economics of Excisable Products (REEP) has published another study focusing on the behaviours of smokers during lockdown, this time focusing on the efforts to quit with illicit cigarette prices constantly rising.

The study is a followup of the previous study titled “Lighting up the illicit cigarette market: Smokers’ responses to the cigarette sales ban in South Africa” which revealed how many smokers were still able to access cigarettes illegally which concluded by saying the national ban on cigarettes were doing more damage to the country with how it is affecting smokers and the economy.

The most recent study conducted by REEP between June 4 and June 19, 2020, via an online survey with 23 631 usable responses which highlights how the illicit cigarette trade continues with soaring prices of cigarettes and takes a look at how smokers are struggling to kick the habit.

The report reads out as follows:

Our most important results regarding quitting during lockdown are as follows:

  • Roughly 27 percent of smokers in the sample indicated that they had attempted to quit smoking cigarettes during the lockdown. There were large racial differences, with African males (62 percent) and females (68 percent) substantially more likely to attempt to quit than other groups, especially White males (18 percent) and females (17 percent).
  • Of the smokers who tried to quit, 33 percent indicated that they had been successful, implying that 9 percent (27percent x 33 percent) of smokers in our sample had successfully quit smoking. Again, there were large racial and gender differences, with Africans having the highest quit success (36 percent for males and 48 percent for females) and Whites having the lowest quit success (3.7 percent for males and 1.8 percent for females).
  • Based on the unweighted data, the percentage of successful quitters of all respondents increased from 7.4% in the first survey to 9 percent in the second survey. (The often-quoted
  • quit percentage of 16% in the first survey was based on weighted data).
  • Successful quitters smoked substantially less (average of 7.8 cigarettes per day) pre-lockdown than all other respondents (average of 16.4 cigarettes per day), suggesting that successful quitters were the least addicted subset of the sample.
  • Seven out of ten (71 percent) smokers who quit during lockdown intend to stay non-smokers after the sales ban is lifted.
  • Amongst those who made a quit attempt, the single most important reason for wanting to quit smoking during lockdown is the high price of cigarettes (56 percent). The unavailability of cigarettes (14 percent) and the ban on the sale of cigarettes (11 percent), although ranking behind high prices, did not feature as strongly. Health concerns (9 percent), not wanting to be addicted to cigarettes (5 percent), and pressure from family and friends (1.3 percent) is relatively unimportant in the decision to quit smoking.
  • More than 70 percent of respondents who quit successfully smoked their last cigarette on 2 May 2020 or before, i.e. during Level 5 of the lockdown. About 16 percent of successful quitters quit between 3 and 31 May 2020 (i.e. during lockdown level 4) and 4 percent of quitters quit since 1 June 2020 (i.e. during lockdown level 3). 8 percent of successful quitters don’t know when they quit smoking.

The study also found that that the respondents that continued smoking were doing so at an average consumption on 13.1 cigarettes per day which dropped from 16.4 pre-lockdown with around half the respondents found themselves smoking less during lockdown while 35 percent consumed the same amount and 15% smoked more.

The number of respondents continuing to smoke and purchase cigarettes is quite alarming as the study reveals the price of cigarettes has risen 250 percent higher than pre-lockdown prices making the average price of a pack of 20 R114 per pack which is a 90 percent average increase since the first study in May.

Although there have been ongoing court cases appealing for the ban on tobacco to be lifted, the study states, “The fact that the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) initiated a court case to have the sales ban lifted is ironic, because their members have benefitted disproportionately from the sales ban. They have greatly increased their share of the market within our sample and sold their cigarettes at hugely inflated prices. The extraordinary profits likely earned during the lockdown period will allow them to oppose tobacco control reforms more effectively in future. For example, they could engage in legal battles with the government over the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill or Track and Trace systems.”

The study then goes on to make a mention that allowing cigarettes to be manufactured for the export market has created a loophole which incentivises the illicit trade with the sale of cigarettes at major price increases and that the survey has proven that most smokers who quit, had not because of health concerns, but due to affordability.

The researchers concluded by saying, “We argue that, instead of imposing a sales ban to prevent people from smoking cigarettes, the government would have been able to achieve a similar outcome by substantially increasing the excise tax (from the current level of R17.40 per pack of 20 cigarettes to R50 per pack or more).”

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