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COVID-19 and a temporary ban on tobacco sales in South Africa: impact on smoking cessation


Objective To evaluate the impact of COVID-19 plus a temporary ban on the sale of tobacco and vaping products, on smoking cessation in South Africa, by reviewing research surveys conducted while the prohibition was in place.

Method An internet search was conducted on 20 August 2020, using the key words: ‘South Africa’, ‘survey’, ‘poll’, ‘smoking’, ‘cigarettes’, ‘tobacco”, ‘vaping’, and ‘COVID-19’. There were no language restrictions. Additional studies were identified through press reports. Only studies conducted between March and August 2020 were included.

Results Four surveys which reported on smokers quitting behaviour were included. None had been published in a peer reviewed journal. The heterogeneity of the data did not allow pooling. Support for the ban on tobacco sales amongst smokers varied from 6% to 36%. Similarly, there were inconsistent findings about quitting behaviour. Nationally, between 16% to 49% of smokers reported not smoking during the ban.

Conclusions Cigarette smoking in SA dropped during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, but the estimates were inconsistent, probably because of survey design. There was evidence that the lockdown achieved the fastest rate of decline in smoking prevalence in the country’s history. The true extent of the fall though is uncertain. Prevalence studies post lockdown, using probability sampling, may more accurately show how many people quit smoking.

  • cessation
  • public opinion
  • public policy
  • COVID-19

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