On Friday [May 15] the University of Cape Town (UCT) published a report showing that, for the most part, smokers have found a way around the cigarette ban.

Between April 29 and May 11, members of the Research Unit on the Economics of Excisable Products based at UCT conducted an online survey which smokers participated in.

The aim was to gain insight into their reaction to the ban on tobacco and to understand market related impacts for tobacco products in the country. Over 16 000 people participated in the survey.

Some of the results were quite interesting, possibly even shocking.

According to the report, about 41% of smokers made an attempt to quit during the lockdown period. “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. 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.

One of the most outstanding findings is that “around 90% of survey respondents” easily purchased cigarettes during the lockdown. Some were forced to switch to a local brand, from their pre-lockdown preference due to availability. Tobacco was still accessible to them despite the ban.

Other interesting findings show that:

– A total 56% of smokers bought cigarettes from formal retailers

– Those who purchased from spaza shops increased by 10% (to 44%) and from house shops by 14% (to 18%)

– Major outlets of cigarettes included street vendors, friends and family, WhatsApp groups, and “essential worker” acquaintances.

– Cigarette prices are increasing about 4.4% each day

– Smokers are paying about 90% more for cigarettes now, than they did prior to the ban

After being allowed to provide additional comments, many of the respondents in the survey seem to cite issues linked to mental health, with regards to the “cold turkey” quit they have been forced into.

“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.

The researchers said that the ban is “failing in what it is supposed to do”, claiming that the current disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Government is not collecting revenue from the illegal trade, consumers are suffering mentally and overpaying, and a black market has developed.

“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,” they said.

Picture: Pexels

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