Today is the day to stop smoking

The size of the illicit cigarette trade in South Africa is an estimated 8 billion cigarettes a year. Picture: iStock
The size of the illicit cigarette trade in South Africa is an estimated 8 billion cigarettes a year. Picture: iStock

As the battle over the government’s continued cigarette sales ban under the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown level 3 heats up, smoking will continue to get a bad rap today when the world marks World No Tobacco Day.

This week, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, cited three studies and a systemic review in her court submission filed at the Pretoria High Court in response to the legal action taken by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association.

The documents showed the correlation between the harmful effects of tobacco products and the Covid-19 coronavirus.

“Studies on the potential links between the use of tobacco products and Covid-19 are being undertaken.

“However, from the studies that have been done so far, the evidence is that the use of tobacco products increases not only the risk of transmission of Covid-19, but also the risk of contracting a more severe form of the virus,” she said in the papers before court.

Dlamini-Zuma said: “The research showed that the severity of Covid-19 outcomes is greater in smokers than nonsmokers.

“Smokers have higher hospital ICU admissions, higher need for ventilators and a higher mortality rate than nonsmokers. Covid-19 is directly linked to comorbidities, such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

Health practitioners and civil society organisations who spoke to City Press this week also emphasised the harmful effect of tobacco use, calling for the speedy implementation of the Tobacco Control Bill, which had been in the pipeline since 2018 when it was first gazetted for public comment.

Smokers have higher hospital ICU admissions, higher need for ventilators and a higher mortality rate than nonsmokers. Covid-19 is directly linked to comorbidities, such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

The bill proposes to control smoking through a total ban of smoking in outdoor public areas, to regulate the sale and advertising of tobacco products and electronic devices (e-cigarettes), and to regulate the packaging and appearance of tobacco products and electronic-delivery systems.

“We have applauded the government for prioritising the health of people over profit through the implementation of the ban of tobacco sales during levels 5 to 3 of the national lockdown.

“But for us, the bigger push is around tobacco legislation because the ban is temporary. We are concerned that, with Covid-19, everything has been put on hold.

"We continue to push for the bill to be passed,” said Sharon Nyatsanza, project and communications manager at the National Council Against Smoking.

“If you look at the theme for World No Tobacco Day, it protects the youth from industry manipulation.

“Eight out of 10 people start smoking as children and some of them become lifetime smokers,” Nyatsanza said.

Read: BATSA taking government to court again over cigarettes sales ban under level 3

“One of the things the bill seeks to do is regulate the sale of electronic cigarettes,” she said, adding that at the entrances of malls across the country e-cigarettes were sold and marketed in many flavours.

David Eedes, clinical adviser of Icon Oncology – a network of private oncologists in the country – said the medical harms caused by tobacco were “enormous”, not only as cancer but also as other chronic health conditions related to smoking.

“Tobacco use leads to immense suffering and innumerable deaths from smoking-related cancers.

"The ban has highlighted the issues on tobacco use and that it is a national health issue no matter how much you abhor the notion of people’s rights being tampered with. Smoking is bad for people individually and as a society in general,” he said.

The World Health Organisation ­(WHO) said tobacco products killed more than 8 million people globally every year; more than 7 million of these deaths were from direct tobacco use and about 1.2 million were due to nonsmokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

“Covid-19 is an infectious virus that primarily attacks the lungs. Smoking impairs lung function, making it harder for the body to fight off coronaviruses and other diseases,” the organisation said earlier this month.

“Tobacco is a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes, which put people with these conditions at higher risk for developing severe illnesses when affected by Covid-19.”

This week, the organisation launched a new kit for school pupils, aged 13 to 17, to alert them to what it claimed were the tobacco industry’s tactics to get them hooked on addictive products.

The nicotine in tobacco products, such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes and hookah pipes, is a highly addictive drug that can permanently damage and alter the brains of young people, which are still developing until the age of 25
Catherine Egbe, a specialist scientist at the SA Medical Research Council

The National Council Against Smoking, the Cancer Association of SA, the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA and the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit at the SA Medical Research Council amplified the “protect our next” campaign, which sought to “expose the secrets of the tobacco companies” and called on the government to pass stronger legislation.

Catherine Egbe, a specialist scientist at the SA Medical Research Council, said: “The earlier children initiate tobacco use, the more difficult it will be for them to quit.

“Children and adolescents who use e-cigarettes at least double their chance of smoking cigarettes later in life.

“The nicotine in tobacco products, such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes and hookah pipes, is a highly addictive drug that can permanently damage and alter the brains of young people, which are still developing until the age of 25.”

Pamela Naidoo, chief executive of the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA, said that protecting young people from tobacco harm was especially important as the country fought the Covid-19 pandemic.

“As we adapt to the changes brought by Covid-19, it is imperative that the government introduces and improves on policies to protect public health and to prevent health harm that is avoidable, such as that caused by tobacco consumption.”


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