Africa has become a prime target for tobacco companies that see it as a major destination for tobacco production and consumption. That’s according to a study by UCT’s Economics of Tobacco Control Project (ETCP).
As a developing continent, Africa has become an attractive market for the tobacco industry given increases in its income, population size and foreign direct investment, as well as improved life expectancy. Consumers in Africa are now able to afford cigarettes and coupled with weak tobacco control laws, this has resulted in the tobacco industry focusing its attention on increasing its market presence.
The study, titled “Trends in cigarette demand and supply in Africa”, found 62 cigarette production facilities in 30 African countries. However, production growth and restructuring have resulted in industry consolidation creating five main tobacco producing hubs in the continent: South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria.
As tobacco production increases in Africa, so too does consumption. The study examined cigarette consumption in 22 countries, which host 80% of the continent’s population, and found that between 1990 and 2012, cigarette consumption increased from 165.6 billion to 238.5 billion cigarettes, or by 44%.
Consumers in Africa are now able to afford cigarettes and coupled with weak tobacco control laws, this has resulted in the tobacco industry focusing its attention on increasing its market presence.
“This upward trend in consumption continues today,” says Nicole Vellios, a researcher at the ETCP and a co-author of the study.
Even though the total cigarette demand in Africa seems to be primarily driven by population growth, many countries also report increasing smoking rates. The study finds that higher production can satisfy the increasing demand for cigarettes on the continent. For example, British American Tobacco Nigeria serves both local and international markets with one factory producing for the domestic market only and another that functions as an export base.
“Tobacco companies are thriving on the continent due to the weak anti-tobacco and tax laws in many African countries,” argues Dr Hana Ross, a principal researcher at the ETCP and a co-author of the study. Although South Africa’s tobacco control legislation is in some respects comparatively better, its legislation still doesn’t hold up to anti-tobacco laws in many developed countries.
A 2015 survey found that 20% of South Africa’s population smokes. Smoking in the country dropped from 33% to 20% between 1993 and 2010 and appears to have plateaued at that level. Interestingly, smoking prevalence is high among coloured and white men, compared to other race groups and women.
The study calls for better data collection in Africa to support evidence-based policy that can respond more powerfully to the emerging tobacco epidemic in Africa.
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