Impact of Existing and Future Tobacco Control Policies

Raising excise taxes is the most cost-effective measure to reduce tobacco consumption.

Other measures include advertising bans, plain packaging and smoke-free public places.

A 10% increase in the price of tobacco is expected to decrease consumption by between 6% and 8% in South Africa.

This page considers the various types of tobacco control measures used by governments around the world and presents estimates of their effectiveness in reducing tobacco use. It examines how increasing excise taxes influences tobacco consumption, shows that tobacco costs the South African economy more than it contributes, and presents examples of how illicit trade and tobacco industry interference counter the gains made by tobacco control measures.

To learn more about the data and methods used in this page, click here.

There are a variety of tobacco control measures that contribute to lowering smoking prevalence and intensity, including increasing excise taxes on tobacco, graphic health warnings, banning smoking in public places, banning tobacco advertisements, and plain packaging and provision of cessation services. Excise taxes are the most cost-effective measure to reduce tobacco use.

Click on the images below to read more about the impact each measure has had on smoking prevalence in various countries around the world. Check out the charts showing cigarette excise taxes and retail prices which are compared to official and total cigarette consumption in South Africa from 1961 to 2018.

Control Measures

on Smoking Prevalence

In South Africa, the economic cost of smoking was estimated at R42 billion in 2016. This includes total healthcare costs (R14 billion), the cost of productivity loss (R369 million), and the cost of premature death (R28.5 billion).

Conversely, over the 2016/2017 period, the tobacco industry generated just R12 billion in excise taxes, which is about 1% of total government revenue. This means that the economy loses R3.43 for every R1 raised from tobacco tax revenue.

economics of tobacco

Productivity Loss

due to Tobacco Use

If the economic cost of tobacco (R42 billion in 2016) was available to be used, it could:

Build approximately 250,000 Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses.

Pay approximately 215,000 high school teachers for a year.

Provide approximately 8.8 million children with the Child Support Grant for a year.

To see how the infographics were calculated, go to the Policies section of Data and Methods here.

Impact of Mechanisation

on Job Losses

Tobacco job losses are affected more by mechanisation than tobacco control measures

Research funded by the tobacco industry claims that tobacco policies that cause tobacco consumption to decline will lead to job losses and reduce economic growth. However, this research is flawed on a number of levels. It overestimates the number of jobs in tobacco by conflating part-time and seasonal work with full-time employment. It also ignores the fact that most tobacco farms grow multiple crops.

More importantly, these studies ignore the fact that a decline in expenditure on tobacco is usually associated with an increase in expenditure on other goods and services in the economy, which in turn leads to growth in those sectors. This shift means that job losses in the tobacco industry do not necessarily lead to a decrease in employment overall, as jobs are created in other sectors. Indeed, most studies have found that there is actually a net increase in employment after tobacco expenditure decreases.

In the local context, one study found that eliminating the domestic tobacco industry in South Africa would actually result in a net gain in jobs (0.4% increase) if consumer spending switched from tobacco to other goods and services, such as clothing, transport, communication, education, and recreational goods.

The net effect on employment may be negative in the small number of countries that are heavily dependent on tobacco (South Africa is not one of these countries). Even in those cases, the effect would be gradual, allowing government time to allocate resources in a way that would assist people to transition to other livelihoods.

For example, when taxes on tobacco were significantly increased in the Philippines in 2012, 15% of the newly generated revenue was directed to assisting tobacco farmers and workers to find alternative forms of work.

Where there have been large job losses in the tobacco sector, these losses are largely due to advances in farming techniques and manufacturing processes. Increased mechanisation has resulted in a decrease in the use of human labour. The privatisation of the tobacco industry (in many countries, but not in South Africa) has also led to a decline in jobs as companies cut costs in order to remain competitive.

tobacco farming

As part of the lockdown restrictions used to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, the South African government banned the sale of tobacco between 27 March and 17 August 2020. South Africa was one of only three countries to ban the sale of tobacco during the pandemic and its ban was by far the longest: Botswana banned tobacco sales for 12 weeks and India for 6 weeks, compared to South Africa’s 20 week ban.

A survey conducted by researchers in 2020 (23,000 respondents, not nationally representative) found that between the start of lockdown (27 March 2020) and the time of the survey (4-19 June 2020).

1 in 4 smokers in the sample tried to quit.

1 in 3 of those who tried to quit were successful (equating to 9% of the full sample successfully quitting).

The most important single reason given for quitting was that cigarettes had become too expensive (57%), followed by not being able to find cigarettes (14%).

Smokers who continued to buy cigarettes illegally during the ban mostly shopped at spaza and house shops (whereas previously they had predominantly bought from formal retailers).

The price of cigarettes (sold illegally) rose by 250% on average.

After the tobacco sales ban was lifted in August, another survey between 16 September and 6 October 2020 (3,766 respondents, not nationally representative)

found that:

Respondents who continued to smoke decreased cigarette consumption slightly (from 17.3 cigarettes per day before the ban, to 13.3 cigarettes per day during the ban and 16.6 cigarettes per day after the ban was lifted).

Cigarette prices (legal sales) were somewhat higher after the ban was lifted than at the pre-ban level. Multinational brand prices rose by 5% on average and non-multinational brands rose by 30%.


Research from another survey in November and December 2020 (6130 respondents, broadly nationally representative)

found that:

Between 8% and 15.3% of smokers aged 18 and older reported quitting successfully during the ban.

However, between 25%-50% of those who had quit started smoking again once the ban was lifted.

Therefore, while an estimated 6.8 million adults aged 18 and older smoked in March 2020 (before the ban), by the end of the ban between 4% and 12% had quit (i.e. there were 6 million to 6.5 million smokers).

Smoking cessation can be encouraged with many different measures. Effective methods include nicotine replacement therapy, Champix, Zyban, training, counselling, quit and win schemes, and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Combining measures improves their efficacy, with, for example, quit rates quadrupling when behavioural therapy is coupled with nicotine replacement therapy.

The tobacco industry is known for using a range of tactics to prevent or reduce government regulation of tobacco products and usage. Public relations campaigns, funding politicians, paying for research, and using front groups are some of the ways in which the industry tries to further their own interests.

Increasing numbers of countries are implementing tobacco control policies, ranging from graphic warnings and advertising bans to increases in excise taxes and the introduction of smoke-free laws.

In 2007

15% (1 billion)

of the world’s population was covered by at least one tobacco control measure

people infographic

In 2019

65% (6 billion)

of the world’s population was covered by at least one tobacco control measure

government building

Policies and programs designed to reduce the demand for tobacco are cost-effective. These include significant tobacco tax and price increases, comprehensive bans on tobacco marketing, graphic health warnings, smoke-free public places, and the provision of wide-scale tobacco cessation programs. Of these interventions, significant tobacco taxes and price increases are the most cost-effective.

Control of the illicit trade in tobacco is a key supply-side policy to reduce the prevalence of smoking and its health and economic consequences. Other supply-side interventions, like restrictions on production, are generally not perceived as particularly successful or impactful. However, where there is a decrease in tobacco production, farmers should be helped to find other livelihoods.

The tobacco industry uses a wide range of tactics to oppose any policies that might reduce sales. These include strategies such as political lobbying, financing research, attempting to influence regulation and policy, and using corporate social responsibility initiatives as part of their public relations campaigns.