Cigarette Prevalence in South Africa

prevalence icon

Smoking prevalence among South African adults (aged 15 years and over) increased from 19% in 2017 to 24% in 2021.

people smoking prevalence page

Smoking prevalence was markedly higher among men (41%) relative to women (11%).

Recent data from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) factsheet indicate that cigarette smoking prevalence has risen in South Africa. In 2017, smoking prevalence among adults aged 15 years and over was estimated at 19.4%.

This was high relative to comparator countries: for example, the prevalence of cigarette smoking among adults aged 15-49 was 8% in Kenya in 2014 and 3.4% in Nigeria in 2018. New estimates indicate that 23.9% of adults (aged 15+) smoked cigarettes in South Africa in 2021. Extrapolating this to the latest national census data, this translates to about 11.1 million South African smokers.

In 2020, as part of the COVID-19 lockdown, the South African government imposed a ban on all tobacco sales. The ban lasted for 20 weeks, beginning 25 March and ending 17 August 2020. Although not nationally representative, data collected during and after the ban suggest that tobacco prevalence fluctuated over this period, since some pre-ban smokers quit during the ban, and then many relapsed after the ban was lifted.

This webpage will be updated with more information as additional GATS data become available in 2023 and research exploring ban-related changes in prevalence is published.

This page explores differences in cigarette prevalence among different population groups in South Africa, with information presented through infographics and charts. Statistics for cigarette consumption are disaggregated by gender and age. Unless otherwise stated, the South African data are derived from the South African Global Adult Tobacco Survey, 2021.

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

Cigarette smoking is significantly more prevalent among men than women in South Africa.

41.2% of men (about 8.7 million people) and 11.5% of women (about 2.6 million) aged 15 years and over smoked cigarettes in South Africa in 2021. This gender disparity is broadly in line with the global trend, which may be attributed to social disapproval of women who smoke, and to men generally having more disposable income with which to buy cigarettes in comparison to women.

This prevalence gap between genders is similarly large in many developing countries. For example, in Kenya 15.8% of men and 0.4% of women smoked in 2014, and in Nigeria 5% of men and 0.3% of women smoked in 2018.

Cigarette Prevalence by Gender, 2021

Source: GATS, 2021

Middle-aged people are the most likely to smoke, compared to the youth and elderly.

Smoking prevalence was highest among middle-aged people: 25-44 year olds (26.7%) and 45-64 year olds (28.6%). This age bracket includes the greatest number of South Africans, which means that this bracket also includes the vast majority of smokers (about 8.2 million). For the age groups 15-24 years old and 65+ years old, smoking prevalence rates were 23.9% (2.3 million) and 25.8% (709 thousand) respectively. Preventing young people from initiating or experimenting with smoking, as well as strictly enforcing the ban on cigarette sales to anyone under the age of 18, is crucial to stopping them from becoming lifelong smokers.

Cigarette Prevalence by Age

Source: GATS, 2021

Cigarette smoking is significantly more prevalent among men than women in South Africa

In 2021, 36.9% of male youth aged 15-24 years (1.8 million), 41.7% of men aged 25-44 years (4.1 million) and 47.4% of men aged 45-64 years (2.2 million) smoked. Smoking prevalence among elderly men (65+ years) was somewhat lower, with a prevalence of 32% (451 thousand).
A similar age trend was evident for women as well. In 2021, 10.7% of female youth (520 thousand), 11.5% of women aged 25-44 years (1.1 million), 12.6% of women aged 45-64 years (686 thousand) and 11% of women over 65 years smoked (258 thousand).

Gender and Age

Source: GATS, 2021