Challenges in Tobacco Control in Zambia

While countries around the world are seeing a decrease in smoking, Zambia is one of the outliers where smoking prevalence continues to increase. By 2025, the WHO estimates that there will be 300,000 new smokers in the country. Such trends are a reflection of deliberate efforts by multinational tobacco companies to expand their markets outside of high-income countries. Sub-Saharan African countries, such as Zambia, where the population is relatively young and regulation is minimal, provide ample opportunity for the industry to entice new smokers.

Earlier this week, Tobacconomics’ own Jeffrey Drope and collaborators Brenda Chitindi from Tobacco Free Zambia and Dr. Fastone Goma discussed the challenges facing tobacco control in Zambia on a BBC documentary podcast (available here).

Tobacco companies have long relied on aggressive marketing to successfully attract consumers. In Zambia, this includes billboards, point-of-sale advertising, and social media campaigns, which target susceptible youth. Information regarding the dangers of smoking for consumers, on the other hand, is less readily available in the country.

Not only are tobacco companies ramping up promotion efforts, but they are expanding domestic manufacturing of cigarettes and benefiting from the incentives set forth by the government. This expansion of cigarette production is often viewed in a positive light and falsely presented as an opportunity for Zambia’s economic development, while tobacco companies enjoy additional profits as a result of multi-year tax breaks.

Further up the supply chain, tobacco farming is also widespread in Zambia, with an estimated 20,000 farming households across the country. Similarly, this is heralded as essential for the Zambian economy by the industry despite research findings that demonstrate the opposite. Tobacco farmers typically earn less growing tobacco leaf than they would growing other crops, as shown in a recent Tobacconomics study from Indonesia. In addition to concerns about the economic instability of tobacco farming, child labor practices are very common on these farms due to high labor demands and farmers’ low earnings that cannot pay for adult labor. 

In response, advocates in Zambia have been working to pass tobacco control legislation and address growing concerns about smoking since 2010. The Tobacco Control Bill would implement the guidelines set by the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to which Zambia is a Party, such as raising excise taxes and regulating the packaging and promotion of cigarettes. Unfortunately, the tobacco industry has been able to block any such legislation for the last decade.

As a result, tobacco products continue to be too affordable in Zambia, making them easily accessible and encouraging uptake among youth. Through sustained tobacco excise tax increases, though, the government could reap both fiscal and public health benefits. This would effectively decrease smoking prevalence in Zambia while raising additional tax revenue, especially when paired with the other evidence-based tobacco control measures in the comprehensive Tobacco Control Bill.

Learn about the current cigarette tax policies in Zambia from the 2nd edition of the Tobacconomics Cigarette Tax Scorecard and stay tuned for new Tobacconomics research on the economics of tobacco farming in Zambia coming soon!