“Are they trying to control us people?”: News media coverage of COVID-19 lockdown tobacco sales ban in South Africa

Catherine O. Egbe*, Senamile P. Ngobese, Hannah Barca, Eric Crosbie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The South African government imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in the world as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country, including a ban on the sale of tobacco products. This study explored news media coverage of arguments and activities in relation to the South African lockdown tobacco sales ban. We collected media articles published between 26 March to 17 August 2020, which corresponded to the period of the sales ban. Data were sourced via google search and snowball identification of relevant articles. Thematic analysis of data was conducted with the aid of NVivo. We analysed a total of 305 articles relevant to the South African tobacco sales ban during the lockdown. Six major themes were identified in the data: challenges associated with implementing the ban, litigation, and threats of litigation to remove the ban, governance process and politicization of the ban, pro and anti-tobacco sales ban activities and arguments and reactions to the announcement lifting the ban. The initial reason for placing the ban was due to the non-classification of tobacco products as an essential item. Early findings of a link between tobacco smoking and COVID-19 disease severity led to an extension of the ban to protect South Africa’s fragile health system. Pro-sales ban arguments included the importance of protecting the health system from collapse due to rising COVID-19 hospitalization, benefit of cessation, and the need for non-smokers to be protected from exposure to secondhand smoke. Anti-sales ban arguments included the adverse effect of nicotine withdrawal symptoms on smokers, loss of jobs and the expansion of the illicit cigarette markets. Litigation against the ban’s legality was a strategy used by the tobacco industry to mobilize the public against the ban while promoting their business through the distribution of branded masks and door-to-door delivery which goes against current tobacco regulations. The media could serve as a veritable tool to promote public health if engaged in productive ways to communicate and promote public health regulations to the general population. Engagement with the media should be enhanced as part of health promotion strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0278888
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12 December
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


Dive into the research topics of '“Are they trying to control us people?”: News media coverage of COVID-19 lockdown tobacco sales ban in South Africa'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this