Blogpost: Putting a spotlight on the economics of tobacco control
July 3, 2017
TV interview with the Taxation Knowledge Hub’s Hana Ross
July 20, 2017

By Vanessa Darsamo

There has been so much talk about the effects of tobacco and alcohol abuse in the 21st century, from smoking restrictions, health warnings on packaging, to videos on social media where former users share their stories on how smoking or abusive drinking affected their health.

Before I joined the Economics of Tobacco Control project I often wondered why there is plenty of evidence of the success of tobacco (and alcohol) control polices in developed countries but not so much evidence from the Lower and Middle Income countries (LMICs), where nearly 80% of the world’s 1 billion smokers live WHO fact sheet, 2016. This is particularly true for African countries.

This got me thinking, “what is Africa’s excuse?” The general perception is that we do not have the data to conduct rigorous research on the subject. However, there has been a growth in tobacco and alcohol specific data sources made available through efforts by intergovernmental organizations including the World Bank, World Health Organization, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and civil society and academic institutions. Moreover, both tobacco and alcohol data are covered in household data and consumer data frequently collected by African national statistics offices. The same is true for alcohol data.

So what is hindering tobacco and alcohol-control studies in Africa? I learnt the answer to this question after working on the Data on Alcohol and Tobacco (DATA) Project.

The DATA Project, funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and in collaboration with DataFirst, catalogues economic data on tobacco and alcohol in Africa and publishes these data for research purposes on the Project’s site. The pilot stage of the project focuses on Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Senegal, and South Africa, with the goal of expanding across Africa.

Our initial findings reveal that despite the availability of relevant tobacco and alcohol data, data producers are not using the available tools to facilitate data visibility and access from their websites. We also find that data collectors are still reluctant to make their data Open.

So such data does exist in Africa, what we lack is the technical infrastructure and expertise to avail these in research-ready formats to the research community.

The DATA Project is overcoming this challenge by establishing relationships with data producers and seeking permission to share their data on the project’s site. The Project documents our experience in securing data and identifies best practices for increasing open access to data.

Some of the functions of the Project include:

  • curating all secured data,
  • Sharing the data in research-ready datasets,
  • using metadata to describe data available in external repositories,
  • and redirect users to these sites,
  • collate time-series data from various publicly available sources into referenced data sheets,

Our work saves researchers the time and effort involved in finding and collating data.

The DATA Project continues to encourage Open access to data, by providing the essential infrastructure and expertise for data sharing. We have established relationships with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and the Senegal National Agency of Statistics and Demography and secured economics data that can be found on the project’s website. The DATA Project is planning a trip to Botswana and Namibia in August, to build relationships with data producers and encourage these to Open access to their data.

Currently, 69 datasets are listed on the DATA Project’s website. These include open access data as well as discovery metadata and links to relevant data available on other sites. Now that we have these, we encourage researchers to make use of the DATA Project’s site. We need researchers to use these datasets so as to enhance the quality of these data, through their feedback. We hope to increase Open access data for alcohol and tobacco control in Africa. So researchers, please make use of this site. It was created for you! Now there are no excuses.