GACD- funds Project to provide evidence on the economic burdens of tobacco use in South Africa

Cape Town | Research titled, The Economics of Tobacco Control Project will attempt to answer questions regarding the effectiveness of tobacco control policies in low and middle-income countries, especially in Africa. 

“We know that higher tobacco taxes, which lead to higher cigarette prices, are effective in reducing tobacco consumption in the general population, but we know relatively less about the impact higher prices have on the behavior of specific population subgroups,” says Project Principal Investigator Dr Hana Ross. “Since the poor are more sensitive to price/tax changes, we want to better understand how the current tax structure affects them. We will investigate the health and financial benefits low-income households can gain from not starting or quitting smoking.”

This project, initiated by The Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU), based at the University of Cape Town, will aim to provide tobacco and alcohol related research results to decision makers and the general public in Africa. 

The project is funded by the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD), and will be conducted in South Africa, and contrasted with evidence from other countries such as Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Vietnam.  The original data collection in South Africa will occur in five townships across the country.  This project complements much tobacco control research that has been performed by researchers from the University of Cape Town for the past 20 years.

In 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that over 63% of all deaths are attributable to NCDs, and tobacco use is among the leading causes. It is estimated that by 2030 about 8 million people will suffer premature death and disability related to tobacco, with 70% coming from low and middle-income countries.

The South African context requires a focus on prevention as opposed to a focus on cure as this will be more cost effective. Evidence from this study will be important for public health research that seeks to identify ways of preventing or reducing the prevalence of these tobacco-related diseases.

One of the key questions that the project intends to answer is whether or not tobacco taxation is a pro-poor policy instrument. The effects of these policies will be analyzed taking into consideration socioeconomic status, gender, and age of consumers.

An ongoing debate amongst tobacco control stakeholders is whether or not tobacco control is a pro-poor policy, which has implications for inequality between the vulnerable and the affluent populations.

In South Africa, one of the most unequal societies in the world, the situation can be exacerbated if unhealthy lifestyle practices such as tobacco use are concentrated among the poor. The project hypotheses builds on previous studies showing that tobacco consumption reduces household disposable income, changes families' budget allocation due to poor health, and lowers productivity, all dampening overall economic growth.

“Non-communicable diseases are largely preventable,” says Professor Glenda Gray, Deputy Chair of GACD & President of the South African Medical Research Council. “GACD is committed to funding research that will ensure that NCD’s do not reach epidemic proportions.”

Release date: 
Thursday, November 24, 2016 - 09:00
Keletso Ratsela
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