A Mountain or a Molehill: Is the Illicit Trade in Cigarettes Undermining Tobacco Control Policy in South Africa? (2010)

Author: Evan Blecher


This study estimates the size of the market for illicit cigarettes in South Africa between 1997 and 2007 in order to consider the impact of the illicit trade in cigarettes on the effectiveness of tobacco control policies. Estimates of the illicit market are made using data on smoking prevalence and simulations of smoking intensity. The paper shows that the size of the illicit market to have grown substantially from 1997 until peaking in 2000 between 9.4% and 11.5% of the total market. The most recent estimate for 2007 suggests that the illicit market occupied between 7.0% and 11.2% of the total market. These estimates are significantly lower than the anecdotal claims of the tobacco industry. Although the scale of the illicit market is significant it has not undermined tobacco control policy. Consumption in the total market, including both the illicit and legal market, has declined in size consistently. At the same time, tax revenue from higher excise taxes has offset the tax losses as a result of illicit trade.

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