Press Statement: UCT Study Finds that Most Restaurant Owners Support a Complete Ban on Smoking in Restaurants

Image: Public Interest Watch

Big tobacco may have intensified its marketing blitz in the developing world, but South Africa’s minister of health, Aaron Motsoaledi, isn’t having any of it. South Africa’s anti-smoking measures are about to get tougher. At the World Conference on Tobacco or Health that was recently held in Cape Town, the minister announced a 100% ban on smoking in public areas. This means that the dedicated smoking areas in restaurants and other hospitality establishments will become history.

Are South Africans ready for this ban on smoking?

A University of Cape Town study, published by the South African Medical Journal, sought to find the answer to this question by canvassing views in South Africa’s restaurant industry.

Megan Little, a researcher in the Economics of Tobacco Control Project (ETCP), a project of the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) in UCT’s School of Economics and Prof. Corné van Walbeek, director of the ETCP, embarked on a study to analyse the smoking policies of restaurants, whether and how these policies have changed over the past decade, and restaurateurs’ attitudes to the proposed legislative changes.

More than 750 restaurants across all of South Africa were interviewed for the study.

“Whereas there was massive pushback from the hospitality and tobacco industries some 20 years ago when the idea of a complete ban on smoking in hospitality establishments was first floated, attitudes appear to have changed today. We found that the majority of restaurants owners and managers support the proposed amendment that would ban smoking in restaurants completely,” Little says.

“A noticeable number of restaurants are already voluntarily instituting a complete ban on smoking regardless of the current regulation’s more lenient stance on smoking,” she says. Already 45% of restaurants have no smoking areas at all. The practise is more prevalent in franchise establishments where 57% of franchisors do not allow their restaurants to have smoking areas at all. Meanwhile, 44% of restaurants have smoking areas outside. Just 11% of restaurants have smoking areas inside.

There is a clear distinction in preference between South Africa’s rural and urban provinces. Restaurants with inside smoking areas tend to be in small towns and rural provinces. Non-smoking restaurants or restaurants with outside smoking areas are prevalent in provinces with large urban populations. “Regional variances in the study may be indicative of differing consumer lifestyle choices between rural and urban South Africa,” Little says.

“There’s been a shift for the better in restaurants’ smoking policies in the past decade,” according to van Walbeek. The study found that 23% of restaurants changed their smoking policies in the last 10 years with the majority relocating their smoking sections outside or banning smoking completely. There was little evidence of customer disapproval to these changes.

“Businesses all over the world respond to consumer preferences and the hospitality industry is no different. The fact that restaurants voluntarily adjusted their smoking policies in the past decade, in some cases taking a tougher stance than the law requires, is indicative of the healthier lifestyle demands of urban restaurant patrons. This suggests that a significant number of South Africans are ready for the ban on restaurant smoking,” according to van Walbeek.


Megan Little, Researcher, Economics of Tobacco Control Project, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, School of Economics, University of Cape Town
+27 76 1221 474,

Corné van Walbeek, Professor, School of Economics, University of Cape Town and Principal Investigator, Economics of Tobacco Control Project, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit
+27 21 650 4689,

Restaurant Smoking Survey Poster Summary (PDF)