Africa a 'prime target' for tobacco companies - study

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Tobacco companies view Africa a major destination for tobacco production and consumption, a new study has found.

A study by University of Cape Town’s Economics of Tobacco Control Project (ETCP), titled Trends in cigarette demand and supply in Africa, says that as a developing continent, Africa has become a "prime target" for the tobacco industry.

This is given its increases in income, population size, foreign direct investment as well as improved life expectancy, the university said in a statement.

"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 found 62 cigarette production facilities in 30 African countries.

SA a tobacco 'hub'

However, production growth and restructuring resulted in industry consolidation, creating five African main tobacco producing hubs: South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria.

Consumption is increasing alongside tobacco production, UCT said.

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%.

"This upward trend in consumption continues today," Nicole Vellios, researcher at the ETCP and co-author of the study, said.

Smoking rates increasing

The study also said that although the total cigarette demand in Africa seemed to be driven primarily by population growth, many countries were also reporting increased smoking rates.

Higher production was able to satisfy the increasing demand for cigarettes on the continent, the study found.

"For example, British American Tobacco Nigeria serves both the local and international markets, with one factory producing for the domestic market only, and another that functions as an export base," UCT said.

"Tobacco companies are thriving on the continent due to the weak anti-tobacco and tax laws in many African countries," said Dr Hana Ross, a Principal Researcher at the ETCP and co-author of the study.

The authors argued that while SA's tobacco control legislation was tighter, it still did not hold up to that of some developed countries.

1 in 5 South Africans smoke

According to a 2015 survey, 20% of SA's population smokes. Smoking in SA dropped from 33% to 20% from 1993 to 2010, however.

It plateaued at that level.

The study authors have called for better data collection on smoking in Africa, which they say will support evidence-based policies and legislation.

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