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South African platinum mine employees reduce smoking in 5 years
  1. M Y N C K Cheyip1,
  2. G Nelson1,
  3. M H Ross1,2,
  4. J Murray1,2
  1. 1School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
  2. 2National Institute for Occupational Health, National Health Laboratory Service, Johannesburg, South Africa
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr J Murray
 NIOH, PO Box 4788, Johannesburg 2000, South Africa; jill.murray{at}


Background: South Africa adopted comprehensive tobacco control policies in the 1990s. Smoking has since declined in the general population, but there is little information on the effect of the campaign in labour-intensive industries, especially the mining industry where workers are exposed to dust, which may interact with tobacco smoke to cause respiratory disease.

Objectives: To determine the prevalence of, and trends in, smoking in employees of a South African platinum mining company, from 1998 to 2002, and to describe some demographic factors associated with their smoking habits.

Methods: This study used smoking data collected during annual fitness-to-work medical examinations. Employees were categorised into never, ever, continuous, new and ex-smokers. Data were analysed by race and age group. Age-standardised smoking prevalance rates were compared with rates in the South African general population.

Results: There were 80 713 records of 25 274 mine employees for the 5-year period. The decrease in smoking prevalence over this period was significant in both black and white men, but was greater in the former (from 42.9% to 29.8%, and from 47.2% to 44.7%, respectively). In 2002, the prevalence of smoking in black mine employees was 12.1% lower than that in black men in the general population. The prevalence of smoking decreased in black mine employees in all age groups (p<0.001); no such trend was seen for white mine employees. The proportion of light smokers increased significantly from 59.9% to 64.7%, with a corresponding significant decrease in the proportion of moderate and heavy smokers from 28.0% to 25.4%, and from 12.1% to 9.8%, respectively.

Conclusion: This study showed a significant decrease in smoking prevalence over a relatively short period, despite the fact that there was no smoking cessation programme in the company. The decline can be largely attributed to the South African government’s antismoking initiative and supports the drive to continue to increase excise taxes on cigarette products. Nevertheless, the relatively high prevalence of smoking in some groups of mine employees highlights the need for workplaces to support the government’s initiatives to curb smoking by establishing smoking cessation and prevention programmes.

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  • Funding: This study was funded by the Mine Health and Safety Council, Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • Competing interests: None.