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Type Journal Article - Nicotine & Tobacco Research
Title When cigarette sales suddenly become illegal: Evidence from an online survey of South African smokers during COVID-19 lockdown
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2022
Despite high levels of illicit trade in the tobacco market, the South African government banned the sale of tobacco products in March 2020 as part of its COVID-19 response. The ban lasted five months. We assess how the ban affected the cigarette market for a sample of smokers by comparing the price, consumption, and competitive landscapes before (March), during (May and June), and after (September) the ban. We conducted three online surveys of cigarette smokers, asking about smoking behavior before, during, and after the ban. We use descriptive statistics and OLS regressions to estimate the impact of the ban on the South African cigarette market, focusing on the price of cigarettes. Most smokers continued smoking despite the sales ban. During the ban, prices increased by over 240%. Purchases shifted away from the normally dominant brands of the multinational tobacco companies to local/regional producers. The covariates of price changed substantially during the sales ban, the most pronounced being inter-provincial effects. After the ban, the market shifted back to its pre-ban state, with an overall increase in price of 3.6%.Cigarette sales continued despite the sales ban, further entrenching an already large illicit market. Had the government substantially increased the excise tax, rather than banned the sale of tobacco products, it would have achieved a similar public health outcome, received more revenue, and presumably not further entrenched the illicit market. South Africa temporarily banned the sale of tobacco as part of its COVID-19 response. Despite the ban, the sale of cigarettes did not cease; rather, it caused major disruption to the cigarette market. The ban inadvertently benefited manufacturers who were previously disproportionately involved in illicit activities; these manufacturers increased their market share even after the ban was lifted. The ban may have further entrenched South Africa’s already large illicit market. Our results show that there are unintended consequences associated with a temporary ban on the sale of cigarettes.

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