Despite the disturbingly clear health warnings plastered on the fronts of cigarette cartons, smoking remains the number one cause of preventable deaths globally.
In South Africa alone, there are 4 200 tobacco-related deaths recorded annually.
Aware of the threat that tobacco poses to our health and the environment, a network of young, vibrant individuals have banded together to form the South African Tobacco-Free Youth Forum (SATFYF), an organisation determined to champion stronger tobacco control laws and educate the youth about the dangers of tobacco use.
Parent24 spoke to Ingrid Bame, the Campaigns Manager at SATFYF, about why they believe it is important to ensure "a smoke-free generation".
"Our passion is protecting our youth and ensuring they don't get mixed up in the wrong things," said Bame.
Though the organisation has only been in establishment for six months, SATFYF is hoping to galvanise support behind the passing of the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill (Tobacco Control Bill) of 2018, of which they are in the process of launching a petition.
"We've gone into different townships within Gauteng, Western Cape, KZN and Limpopo, we've taken young groups of young kids, educated them and said 'this is actually the reality behind tobacco, this is how it harms your health, this is how it has impacted our communities, our economy and our environment'," says Bame.
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'A big snowball effect'
The dangers of tobacco are well known, but the extent to which the effects of smoking are harmful isn't fully understood, says Bame.
"I think we take lightly the effects of cigarettes and e-cigarettes, and even hubbly bubbly," she says.
The effects of tobacco use on the environment alone include, but aren't limited to:
- Deforestation due to large volumes of tobacco production
- Generation of toxic waste by the process of cultivating, curing, and transporting releases toxic chemicals
- Pollution caused by cigarette waste
When it comes to health risks, even non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25–30%, while the risk of stroke increases by 20-30%.
The continued use of tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, vaping pens and e-cigarettes can cause severe health complications, such as lung disease, cancer, stroke and heart attack, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema.
Currently, tobacco use is also associated with a range of other substance abuse and mental health problems, making it that much more difficult to quit.
Just as with drugs such as cocaine and heroin, nicotine (the highly addictive chemical in tobacco) increases levels of the chemical messenger, dopamine (a 'feel-good' hormone) which drives us to repeat pleasurable behaviours.
"Kids who actually start smoking at a very young age or start indulging in smoking, they have a lesser chance of progressing in life," explains Bame.
"It seems like something small, but there is a big snowball effect."
"Is it really worth it?" Bame asks.
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Taking control of our youth's future
SATFYF has gotten its fair share of backlash after being accused of "taking food off the table" of many small business owners who sell tobacco for their livelihoods.
However, SATFYF emphasises that its aim is not to ban tobacco products.
"We're not trying to ban cigarettes, we're trying to bring awareness to the fact that this actually is something that is harmful and that could have a negative impact."
The backing of parents and the general community is imperative to "take back control of what's happening in the futures of our youth, to ensure that they are taken care of and for us to do that we need to be able to stand up and speak up on things that are wrong, things that we have control over, like the passing of the Tabacco control bill," explains Bame
"We are not trying to restrict [the youth's] freedom - we are just trying to mitigate a worst-case scenario."
"The moment that we have harder restrictions and regulations put in place, we hope that that will have a huge impact on the consumption of tobacco products."
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