The tobacco ban, which was imposed on South Africans at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, has seen people signing petitions against it as well as organisations such as Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) taking the state to court to challenge its decision. However, for some people the ban has been a blessing in disguise.
The former smokers tells DRUM how the cigarette ban helped them quit their habits.
These are their stories.
Sandile Ngobese*, 29, Durban
“I’ve been smoking for six years. The first few days after the ban was implemented were very hard. I had to tell myself I was going to finally quit. I had to figure out what I should do and I read somewhere that I should try to keep busy. I decided to exercise to keep myself busy and I must admit it helped a lot.
“Quitting is something I’ve always wanted to do, especially for health reasons. I’d stop for a week but go back because cigarettes were easily available. Something would just put me off and I’d find myself holding a cigarette again. I strongly believe that even after the ban has been lifted, I’ll stick to my decision because I’ve seen the benefits of stopping.
“It was very hard for me to stop so I won’t throw all that work away. I’m also seeing a change in my health so going back to square one is not an option. Even if someone would offer me a pull right now, I know I’d be able to resist because it will take me right back to the start.
“When the ban started, I did buy cigarettes from the black market and that also contributed to my decision to stop. By day three of the lockdown, a box of 20s was already R120 and I realised how expensive this was and thought it wasn’t worth it. Because I had nothing to do when the lockdown started, I’d find myself smoking two 20s in a day – that’s R240 down the drain already.
“It hasn’t been an easy journey. I do experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, unrest, insomnia and mood swings. I take headache tables because I get severe headaches from the neck up. I’ve also incorporated exercise into my routine every morning and that helps stop the cravings. I also opted to get patches, which help with cravings too. The patches are quite pricey but I’d rather spend R600 once-off for them than constantly spend R120-R240 a day for a box of cigarettes.”
Nthabiseng Tshepe, 37, Northriding, Johannesburg
“I started smoking cigarettes more than 16 years ago and after many attempts to quit, the ban has helped me quit completely. When they announced that cigarettes were no longer going to be sold, I went to buy a box of 20 just to test how I’d cope without them. After the pack ran out, I told myself that I would not buy a pack that cost R100 on the black market whereas a normal pack costs just R50.
“I’ve always wanted to stop smoking cigarettes because I’d started at an early age, when I was in Standard 7 (Grade 9), and I developed breathing problems. Another issue I had with smoking is having bad breath once I wake up and that would be a turn-off to my partner who does not smoke. Quitting was hard because I’d have access to cigarettes.
“In the first few weeks I experienced a lot of withdrawal symptoms and would chew gum and drink a lot of juice to fight the cravings. I’m not really sure that once the lockdown ends, I’ll be able to resist the urge to stop. Because we’re indoors now and cigarettes are scarce, it’s been easier for me to stop.
“The differences I’ve noticed now after almost three months of not smoking are that my breathing has become better and even my morning breath is a lot better. I’ve also started to dislike the smell of cigarettes because I can smell them from my neighbour in our complex. Another big difference is in my finances. Under normal circumstances, I’d buy a pack of 20s on a Monday and by Tuesday evening it would have run out. On weekends I’d buy two packs of 20s to accommodate my social life where I’d be drinking and the more I drink, the more I want to smoke. So you can imagine how much money I’ve saved now.”
Thabelo Thabz, 23, Limpopo
“I’ve been a smoker for eight years, having started smoking when I was in Grade 8 due to pressure. The tobacco ban has helped me quit my habit, but it was not simple. During the first week of the lockdown, cigarettes were still available from the street even though they weren’t available from retailers but two weeks in, people who were selling on the streets decided to increase the price of a single cigarette from R2,50 to R3,50.“I would smoke about seven to eight cigarettes a day and the increase was too much for me since I hadn’t been working due to the lockdown. I then decided to take a two-week break or until the retailers would start selling cigarettes again. After two weeks of not smoking, I realised I wasn’t experiencing hectic cravings and that I could stop smoking. I also realised I was saving money, especially since I wasn’t working at the time. And by the third week, street sellers had raised the price of one cigarette to R5. For a person who smokes seven to eighttimes a day, I just decided it would be better for me to stop.
“I’ve thought about quitting the habit before the tobacco ban was implemented but I wouldn’t be successful with it. I’d stop for a week or two but would have been tempted to smoke at least once or twice during that time. But now I’ve been clean for 65 days and I’m hoping to go for longer.
I don’t think I’ll start smoking again after the ban gets lifted because I’ve realised this is all in the mind. The people I live with still smoke and I don’t really care much about smoking. It’s all in the mind and once I tell myself that I’ll stop doing something, I stick to it.
“[In] the first few weeks, it was hard to stop because of habit. My morning routine would be to smoke a cigarette before I did anything but now I’ve decided to start my day by jogging, and it feels good. I even believe I’m glowing. When I smell cigarettes now, I get irritated and move away from the smoker.”