Just 2% of Port Elizabeth smokers surveyed had quit puffing following the government’s ban on tobacco, while a quarter of respondents were likely to stick to the brand they had started buying on the black market.
This comes as cigarette prices on the black market soared by an average of 250% when the extension of the tobacco ban was announced during level 3 of the national lockdown, with a box of 20 cigarettes costing as much as R114.
However, the prices for JFK, Savannah and Chicago have since dropped significantly, now costing about R60 a box.
Before the lockdown, these cigarettes went for as little as R10 a box.
According to 200 respondents surveyed, 33% will most likely not return to their original brand — made up of premium and super-premium tobacco including the likes of Peter Stuyvesant, Camel, Marlboro, and Dunhill — once the ban has been lifted.
The survey was carried out by Real Research, a Port Elizabeth company that covers a multitude of industries such as automotive, banking, and retail.
Real Research director Justin Swanepoel said the premium and super-premium tobacco brand companies could potentially lose a significant share of the market once the ban was lifted.
“Smokers will opt rather for the more affordable and cheaper brands that have been flooding the market,” Swanepoel said.
“For this particular research, the company aimed to determine the potential changes in smoking habits, brand strength or switch, and an understanding of the tobacco market during Covid-19.
“Secondary outputs were to determine if the actual ban had reduced or changed tobacco use.”
The research was done across Port Elizabeth suburbs via webmail and telephone.
The study, conducted in June, revealed that although 92% of respondents used to support a brand for the image, the score had dropped significantly to 16%.
It showed that while premium and super-premium brands were still to be found, the heavy price tag of up to R190 a box had resulted in smokers turning to cheaper brands such as JFK, Savannah and Chicago.
“Also, the ban has had very little effect, if any, on curbing smoking.”
The study found that of those still purchasing cigarettes, 66% were male and 34% female.
Only a quarter had tried to quit during the ban, with a success rate of just 2%.
“The main methods used were 47% electronic, 28% medication and 25% who tried cold-turkey,” Swanepoel said.
The largest profile who has managed to quit were females under 25.
He said the number of cigarettes smoked by females and males had also changed.
“The average male user pre-ban smoked around 15 per day, which has now increased to 17. The average female user smoked nine per day and this decreased to seven.
“However, the age group of 46 to 55 across both males and females were smoking more than their normal average.”
He said respondents were reluctant to name where they managed to buy cigarettes on the black market.
“However, 46% were buying cigarettes freely, under the counter, from their regularly frequented corner cafes, of which 87% were foreign-owned.”
He said WhatsApp groups supplied 44% of respondents with delivery to their door, and friends supplied a further 8%.
“Two percent receive their nicotine from petrol stations, where one orders petrol and cigarettes at the same time.”
He said before the lockdown 92% only bought one box at a time, but now 88% purchases a carton instead.
A Walmer resident who had smoked a box a day for the better part of five years but could not afford to buy cigarettes on the black market any longer, said he was surprised so few people had mustered the courage to stomp out the bad habit.
“It was hard for me to stop and I just assumed more people would have done so. If this is the case with just 2% stopping, then what is the point of banning the sale of tobacco?”
While he did not take part in the survey, he said: “When I did smoke, cigarettes were freely available. There was never a struggle to buy.”
Another resident, living in Newton Park, said she had tried to stop after running out of Dunhill cigarettes shortly after level 5 was extended in April.
“I lasted all of nine hours before I went to a cafe to buy a cheaper brand. I will probably keep smoking this brand when the ban is lifted as I will manage to save more money.”