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SAMRC to implement South Africa’s First Global Tobacco Adult Survey (GATS)

SmokingCape Town | The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) will soon implement the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) – a first for South Africa.  

GATS is a global standard household survey that aims to enhance countries’ capacity to develop, implement, and monitor tobacco control interventions through systematic monitoring of adult tobacco use and tracking of key tobacco indicators. The Survey takes place at a time when the rest of the world continues to ramp-up its better understanding of and the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic – where the link between smoking and tobacco and the severity of the virus on smokers, remains an important issue for debate.

Commissioned by the National Department of Health (NDoH), the SAMRC through its Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Research Unit (ATODRU) will collect and provide data on tobacco use and key indicators, including exposure to second hand smoke, quitting attempts, knowledge, attitude and perception towards tobacco use, exposure to tobacco messaging and advertising, as well as economics of tobacco use. Field work for the first phase (mapping and listing) should commence in the second half of this month while the Survey will likely begin in May this year.

A stratified multistage random sample design will be used to select households for inclusion in the survey. First, 126 primary sampling units (PSUs) will be systematically selected from the Statistics South Africa (Stats SA)’s Master Sample Frame. Selection at this stage will be stratified by urbanicity to ensure adequate representation of rural and urban areas in the country.

From the selected PSUs, a total of 6,238 households will be systematically selected and finally, one respondent aged 15 years or older will be randomly selected within each of those households. Selected participants will be able to respond to the questionnaire in their preferred language because the questionnaire will be available in all 11 South African official languages to eliminate potential language barriers and ensure inclusion of all eligible respondents.

Tobacco use is a leading cause of mortality and morbidity globally, with 80% of smokers living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) thus bearing a high burden of tobacco-related diseases.

According to Dr Catherine Egbe, Specialist Scientist at the SAMRC’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit and Principal Investigator (PI) of the Survey, South Africa is among countries experiencing a heavy burden of tobacco-related diseases and mortality with 42,100 persons dying from tobacco-diseases yearly. However, she says tobacco use related mortality and morbidity are preventable adding that the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) has been effective in scaling back tobacco use.

“In line with FCTC guidelines, South Africa needs up-to-date and quality data to monitor tobacco use. Such data is particularly important for South Africa at this time given the proposed Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill and the need to monitor its impact should it come into effect,” Dr Egbe emphasizes. 

Dr Egbe is no stranger to tackling tobacco related issues in South Africa. She recently conducted research investigating the link between Tobacco use and COVID-19 disease severity by looking into how and why smokers are more likely to be susceptible to a worse disease outcome should they contract SARS-COV-2 compared to non-smokers. The preliminary findings were shared with the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on COVID-19 and formed the core of her expert affidavits submitted in support of the government in the cases brought against it by the tobacco industry.


More about the Survey

Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) is part of the Global Adult Tobacco Surveillance System. GATS South Africa Project was commissioned by the National Department of Health (NDoH). Households will be surveyed on their tobacco use, exposure to second-hand smoke, attempts to quit, and awareness of anti-smoking campaigns. The findings will be of value as the country plans to introduces new anti-tobacco measures.

The survey is funded by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) Foundation through the World Health Organization and technical support will be provided by RTI International. 

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