The South African Medical Research Council will soon implement the country’s first Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS).
GATS is a global standard household survey aimed to enhance countries’ capacity to develop, implement, and monitor tobacco control interventions through systematic monitoring of adult tobacco use and tracking of key tobacco indicators.
“The survey takes place at a time when the rest of the world continues to ramp-up its better understanding of and the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic – where the link between smoking and tobacco and the severity of the virus on smokers, remains an important issue for debate,” the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) said on Tuesday.
Commissioned by the National Department of Health (NDoH), the SAMRC through its Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Research Unit will collect and provide data on tobacco use and key indicators.
These include exposure to second-hand smoke, quitting attempts, knowledge, attitude and perception towards tobacco use, exposure to tobacco messaging and advertising, as well as the economics of tobacco use.
The fieldwork for the first phase, which is mapping and listing, is expected to start this month, while the survey will likely begin in May this year.
A stratified multistage random sample design will be used to select households for inclusion in the survey.
“First, 126 primary sampling units (PSUs) will be systematically selected from the Statistics South Africa’s Master Sample Frame. The selection at this stage will be stratified by urbanicity to ensure adequate representation of rural and urban areas in the country.”
From the selected PSUs, the SAMRC said 6 238 households will be systematically selected and finally, one respondent aged 15 or older will be randomly selected within each of those households.
Selected participants will be able to respond to the questionnaire in their preferred language to eliminate potential barriers and ensure the inclusion of all eligible respondents.
The SAMRC has described tobacco use as a leading cause of mortality and morbidity globally, with 80% of smokers living in low and middle-income countries and therefore bearing a high burden of tobacco-related diseases.
The council’s Specialist Scientist and Principal Investigator of the local survey, Dr Catherine Egbe said South Africa is among countries experiencing a heavy burden of tobacco-related diseases and mortality with 42 100 people dying from tobacco-diseases yearly.
However, she believes tobacco use related mortality and morbidity are preventable.
Also, she said the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) has been effective in scaling back tobacco use.
“In line with FCTC guidelines, South Africa needs up-to-date and quality data to monitor tobacco use. Such data is particularly important for South Africa at this time given the proposed Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill and the need to monitor its impact should it come into effect,” Egbe added.
The SAMRC said Egbe, is no stranger to tackling tobacco-related issues in South Africa.
She recently conducted research investigating the link between tobacco use and COVID-19 disease severity by looking into how and why smokers are more likely to be susceptible to a worse disease outcome should they contract SARS-COV-2 compared to non-smokers.
“The preliminary findings were shared with the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on COVID-19 and formed the core of her expert affidavits submitted in support of the government in the cases brought against it by the tobacco industry,” the SAMRC added.