Nearly 20 years ago, Nomzamo Fakude took her first puff while attending a party at her aunt’s place. She was chilling with her cousin’s friends when the group was smoking and passed the cigarette to her.
“It was nothing like what my friends described. I didn’t cough or experience any discomfort,” she recalls.
After her pleasant first experience, she started developing a habit of smoking whenever she went out on weekends.
Soon a puff or two from her smoking buddies weren’t enough anymore and she resorted to buying her own packed of cigarettes.
Nomzamo, now a 37-year-old mother of two, lives in Soweto and works in Ormonde, doing property sales for new developments in Heidelberg.
When the lockdown commenced, her stress levels shot up and she began smoking more frequently, she says.
“Not going to work anymore and not getting clients was really financially hard for me and my family because I work on a commission basis.”
Things got worse for her when the government enforced a ban on the selling of tobacco under the Disaster Management Act.
“In the township people still continue to sell cigarettes but I knew that the real (legal )tobacco companies are closed and that I wasn’t smoking the same product anymore.”
A packet of cigarettes used to cost Nomzamo between R70 and R75, but since the lockdown cigarette prices have shot up even though the product is no longer of the same quality.
“When my brother went to buy a packet for me it was R90 and then it went up again to R120! The taste and smell was also different, that’s when I decided to try and stop smoking. Plus, financially, I couldn’t keep up with the habit because I was no longer earning an income because my company has closed down.”
As much as Nomzamo tried to kick the habit, she found herself smoking again a week later.
However, this time it was a traumatic experience that made her finally quit the habit for good.
“It was so bad; my lungs felt like they were on fire!” she shares. “This made me realise that my lungs were actually starting to heal themselves and since the coronavirus affects the respiratory system, what will my chances of survival be if I don’t quit my bad habit.”
As weeks passed, Nomzamo began to notice some changes in her health and in her surroundings.
“I used to suffer from migraine but now I only experience light headaches. Also, there is a lady renting in our backroom who’s a smoker. I didn’t realise how awful the smell of cigarette is until now.”
Nomzamo has now set lifestyle goals to improve her overall wellbeing so whenever possible she’s walking instead of travelling by a taxi.
Since the start of level 4 of the lockdown, she’s been going to work on certain days. Nomzamo has asked one of her colleagues, who is a personal trainer, to help her reach her fitness goals.
This week her employer proposed that she returns to work on a full-time basis and Nomzamo is already planning to include more walking in her travel routine to work.
“I take the Rea Vaya bus when I go to work but it doesn’t reach my desired destination. So instead of taking a taxi from UJ to Bara taxi rank where the company shuttle usually picks us up, I’d rather take the 1km walk to and from UJ and Bara each day,” she says.
There have been protests about the uncertainty surrounding the ban on tobacco sales as the country moved from level 5 to level 4. Nomzamo feels the ban should stay in place as it could help people with bad habits like herself to make a positive change.
“I think South Africans find change really hard. Yes, it’s their right to do whatever they want to do with their bodies, they also have the right to protest. But smoking doesn’t only affect you but also those around you,” she says.
“We need to take into consideration that the coronavirus affects our lungs and even if it’s not airborne, the virus is easy to contract from being in physical contact with other people, and we all know that smokers share cigarettes and that’s bad.
“We need to be wise. There are better things that we can focus on right now and smoking isn’t one of them,” Nomzamo concluded.