New smoking laws for South Africa coming – as almost a third of all adults light up every day

 ·14 Jun 2024

Anti-tobacco groups in South Africa have called on the new government to urgently pass the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill to combat smoking and regulate the emerging vape and e-cigarette markets.

New data shows that, on average, daily smokers in South Africa smoke 8.5 cigarettes a day, while the prevalence of tobacco use among adults in the country is 29.4%, which equates to 12.7 million people.

This information is based on the 2021 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) South Africa report. Data was gathered from 7,245 households and the report was released by the Department of Health on Thursday, 13 June 2024.

It was revealed that a higher percentage of men (41.7%) are currently using tobacco compared to women (17.9%) in South Africa.

The highest proportion of tobacco smokers is in the 45-64 age range at 28.6%, with nearly half (47.4%) of males in this demographic expected to be tobacco smokers.

Source: Global Adult Tobacco Survey, South Africa

Lead investigator of the GATS, Dr Catherine Egbe from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), stated that 21.2% of adults in South Africa smoke tobacco daily (35.1% of men and 8.3% of women), while 4.6% smoke occasionally.

Shifting her focus to the age of initiation of tobacco use, Egbe said the average age of initiation was 17.6 years old among adults aged between 20 and 34. 

In addition, Egbe stated that 33.9% of daily tobacco users smoke within five minutes of waking up. 

The highest prevalence of tobacco users is found in the Northern Cape, followed by the Western Cape, while the lowest is in Limpopo.

Table: Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) South Africa report

E-cigarettes and hookah pipe

2.2% of the South African adult population said they were currently using e-cigarettes, of which 3.8% are men and 0.7% are women. 

However, this slightly differs from the South African E-Cigarette Survey 2022, which revealed that more than one in 10 (11.3%) adults in urban South Africa have tried e-cigarettes, and 4% of adults were regular e-cigarette users at the time of the survey.

The Department of Health’s Deputy Director of General Primary Healthcare, Jeanette Hunter, said that there has been an increase in the use of hookah, e-cigarettes and vapes, particularly among young people.

“Studies have highlighted health risks associated with the use of e-cigarettes and hookah pipes, hubbly bubbly or shisha, even though they are aggressively marketed as healthier tobacco alternatives,” Hunter said. 

According to the GATS, of those using e-cigarettes, 70.3% cited enjoyment, 67.5% cited flavour, 45.1% perceived it as less harmful than tobacco, while 43.5% said their use was influenced by friends or family members who use e-cigarettes. 

The study also found that 3.1% of adults reported smoking hookah pipe or hubbly bubbly. 

The money side

The median amount spent by a person on 20 manufactured cigarettes was R24.70, while the median monthly expenditure on manufactured cigarettes was R263.10.

Data indicates that men spent slightly more on cigarettes, R273.20, while women spent around R207.20 monthly. 

According to Statista, revenue in the cigarettes market in South Africa amounts to R255.39 billion 2024.

While the cigarette market in South Africa remains prevalent, the illicit trade of it has boomed.

The South African government has lost an estimated R119 billion in excise and Value-Added Tax (VAT) revenue between 2002 and 2022 as a result of the country’s sprawling illicit cigarette market.

In 2022 alone, R15 billion was lost in excise revenue and R3 billion in VAT revenue.

This is according to a recent study by Nicole Vellios and Corné van Walbeek from the Research Unit on the Economics of Excisable Products at the University of Cape Town.

According to the study, the illicit cigarette market made up 5% of the cigarette market in the country in 2009. In 2022, it sat at 58%, a slight decrease from its peak of 60% in 2021.


Among adults currently smoking tobacco, 80.9% attempted to quit without assistance, 4.1% used pharmacotherapy, and 42.9% received advice to stop from their healthcare provider.

Data also shows that 74.4% of adults who visited public places were exposed to second-hand smoke (SHS) at bars, taverns, shebeens or nightclubs. 

Meanwhile, 19.9% were exposed to SHS at school, 16.0% at tertiary institutions and 11.3% in cafes. 

Government interventions

Hunter said that the increase in the use of e-tobacco products among the youth is the “reason that we, as a country, amended the existing Tobacco Product Control Act, Act 83 of 1993 to incorporate the control of the use of electronic delivery systems.” 

Meanwhile, as part of the recommendations, Egbe emphasised the importance of implementing tobacco taxes, smoke-free laws, graphic health warnings, and total bans on tobacco advertising and promotion to reduce smoking initiation, particularly among young people.

The introduced Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill aims to shakeup South Africa’s tobacco landscape, which broadly looks to:

  • Declare indoor public places and certain outdoor areas 100% smoke-free.
  • Ban the sale of cigarettes through vending machines.
  • Require plain packaging with graphic health warnings and pictorials.
  • Ban the display at point-of-sale.
  • Regulate and control electronic nicotine delivery systems and non-nicotine delivery systems.

“Effective strategies to reduce tobacco use, including putting in place more comprehensive laws that are compliant with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, should be implemented to protect more people from exposure to SHS, and provide cessation services to help more people who smoke to quit,” Egbe said. 

Egbe argues that if Parliament were to pass the abovementioned Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill of 2022, it would help reduce long-term tobacco use and the burden of tobacco-related diseases.

Read: Big smoking taxes in South Africa – call for SARS to take a larger chunk

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