A survey conducted by gig technology company M4Jam has found that half of all South African smokers have been able to source new cigarette supplies during lockdown, and 95% are paying elevated prices for what are mostly black-market products.
M4Jam states that a demographically representative sample of 2 013 South Africans, who are signed up with the platform and are smokers, responded to questions about cigarette availability and consumption during lockdown.
The survey highlights that 87% of respondents spent up to R500 a week on cigarettes before lockdown, with only 10% spending between R501 and R1 000 a week. The regularity of indulgence was evenly split, with one-third smoking up to three times a day, one-third with a moderate requirement of up to five cigarettes a day and 29% requiring a cigarette more than five times a day.
However, the survey also finds that during the lockdown, smoker’s habits have changed substantially.
While the cigarette sales ban is in place, a third of smokers are still smoking one to three times a day, but just 9% of smokers have four to five cigarettes a day and another 9% are smoking more than five a day.
Further, 49% of smoking respondents reported that they had stopped smoking during lockdown, choosing to avoid exorbitant prices or use lockdown as a good excuse to kick the habit.
To get themselves through, 44% of smokers had tried to buy in bulk before lockdown began, and only 6% still had some of those cigarettes left. Fifty-two per cent of smokers taking the survey say they would not, and did not attempt to buy black-market cigarettes during the lockdown.
M4Jam CEO Georgie Midgley states that when asked for their reasons for quitting, health considerations featured prominently.
“While some smokers are feeling the pinch of economic difficulty and electing to ride out lockdown without cigarettes, many others seem to have used the time to reflect on the positive health benefits of giving up smoking.”
However, she adds that whether this will permanently affect the sales market for cigarettes after lockdown will be interesting to watch.
The remaining 48% who had bought cigarettes during lockdown had mostly bought black-market products (84%), mainly through ‘back-door’ suppliers or individuals (59%). Twenty six per cent report they had managed to buy black-market cigarettes through local shops, and 79% say they were not sharing their cigarettes under lockdown.
Ninety-five per cent of those who had bought cigarettes during lockdown had paid more for a pack than usual. The most commonly bought brands were RG at 47%, Sharp at 30%, Remington Gold at 19% and Pacific at 17%.
Twenty-six per cent of smokers were paying a hefty premium of more than R50 above the usual prices for a pack under the lockdown ban.
However M4Jam notes that it seems the new options will not easily sway brand loyalty, as 64% of respondents say they would go back to buying their regular brands when it’s legal again.
The reason was almost unanimous, with 86% of respondents saying they believed the black-market cigarettes were more harmful to their health.
In another surprise, M4Jam states that 36% of smokers agreed with the ban of cigarettes. “This response dovetails quite neatly with the decision of many smokers to try use lockdown as a hard break for their smoking habits,” concludes Midgley.