Frontline Market Research shows that cigarette ban has had little impact on cigarette consumption
24 Jul 2020 12:35
Frontline Market Research, a South African market research company, has conducted an ad-hoc, independent survey into the consumption of cigarettes during the Covid-19 induced lockdown.
The report makes for some very interesting reading and largely supports what is appearing on social media.
As stipulated by government, cigarettes have not been allowed to be sold since lockdown began at midnight on 26 March 2020.
In the survey, Frontline Market Research sought the overall sentiment of smokers and they collected data on the habits of these smokers.
Information was gathered on the number of cigarettes consumed, the sourcing of cigarettes, brand choices, purchase pricing as well as the coping behaviour of ordinary smoking consumers. Over 6500 people were interviewed.
The resultant report was published on 24 July 2020 and states that the survey sample was taken across all provinces in South Africa with natural fallout on gender, age and location. The results are thus not a representative sample of the South African population.
Firstly consumer sentiment was unanimous – a complete distrust in Government. The majority of smokers, 84% to be exact, believe that the government benefits from the ban of cigarette sales.
The survey clearly indicates that the cigarette sale ban is not preventing smoking and reports that 89% of the sample continued to buy cigarettes during lockdown. Only 11% of the smoking community have quite or sourced alternative sources of nicotine in the past few months.
The supply and distribution landscape for cigarette sales also looks entirely different post normality.
Most notable is that brand loyalty died when the ban was introduced. Smokers will buy whatever is available.
Logic would also suggest that smokers would ration what cigarettes they had but this is not the case. Most smokers who consumed a pack a day before lockdown, are still smoking a pack a day during lockdown.
Smokers indicated that they would travel as far as they have to, to purchase cigarettes and panic buying is increasing purchasing frequency. Smokers are buying once a week or whenever they can simply to avoid not having cigarettes to smoke.
So if cigarettes are not legally available where are they being sourced? The survey reveals that over 75% of consumers are buying from a “friend of friend” or “under the counter” from normal retail outlets.
The two biggest changes during lockdown are the pricing of a pack of cigarettes and the brands being smoked.
Illegal cigarette brands are leading. The top 10 brands of cigarettes before the sale ban were the legal brands while the top 10 brands sourced during lockdown are dominated by illicit brands. However, 96% of the sample who source cigarettes during the sale ban, indicate they will switch back to their usual brand once the ban is lifted.
Shockingly, consumers are spending between 211% - 280% more per pack of cigarettes during lockdown. When the extra travel costs are included consumers are paying on average between R126 and R135 per pack of cigarettes.
Tobacco is addictive
Tobacco is clearly, as economists would term them, an inelastic commodity. Demand is unaffected by price. The survey provides insight into both the addictiveness of cigarettes as well as the extent and organisation of the illegal cigarette trade.
Is the ban worthwhile?
If only 11% of the smoking population have stopped smoking is the ban on the sale of tobacco really working?
If you weigh this up against the loss of tax revenue (that could be used to fix the problems in hospitals), the increased coronavirus exposure that the remainder of the smokers are taking to source illegal cigarettes and the burgeoning illegal cigarette industry is the balance not in favour of lifting the ban?
The effect of the Prohibition in America resulted in the rapid growth of the criminal underworld. Are we not doing the same in South Africa?