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Evaluating South Africa's tobacco control policy using a synthetic control method


Background South Africa has since 1994 consistently increased the excise tax on cigarettes to maintain a total tax burden of 50% (1997–2003) and 52% (after 2004) of the average retail selling price. Between 1994 and 2004, the real (inflation-adjusted) excise tax increased by 249%, and the average real retail price of cigarettes increased by 110%. In addition, advertising and smoking bans were implemented in 2001. These measures, which we collectively refer to as tax-led, coincided with a 46% decrease in per capita consumption of cigarettes. No evaluation of South Africa's tobacco control policies has created a counterfactual of what would have happened if the tax-led measures had not occurred.

Objective (1) To create a credible counterfactual of what would have happened to per capita cigarette consumption if the tax-led measures had not happened. (2) To use this counterfactual to estimate their impact on cigarette consumption in South Africa.

Method We use a synthetic control method to create a synthetic South Africa, as a weighted average of countries (the ‘donor pool’) that are similar to South Africa, but that did not engage in large-scale tobacco control measures between 1990 and 2004.

Results Per capita cigarette consumption would not have continued declining in the absence of the tax-led measures that began in 1994. By 2004, per capita cigarette consumption was 36% lower than it would have been in the absence of the tax-led measures. These results, which we mostly attribute to tax increases, are robust to different specifications of the ‘donor pool’.

Conclusions Significant public health dividends can be obtained by consistently increasing the real tax on cigarettes.

  • Economics
  • Taxation
  • Low/Middle income country
  • Price
  • Public policy

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