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Cigarette ban is a boon to those smokers trying to kick the habit

Most smokers are gasping for an end to the lockdown ban on cigarette sales, but Johannesburg businessman Marius Buys says it is the perfect opportunity to quit.

After finishing the packet of cigarettes he bought a day before the lockdown began, the 44-year-old went cold turkey. "It's been just over 14 days since I last had my last cigarette and you have no idea how good I feel about it," said Buys.

"I went through withdrawal symptoms for the first three days and since then I've been so busy doing charitable work to curb the Covid-19 spread that I don't even think about smoking any more."

Buys is one of about 200 owners of 3D printers who are printing reusable masks and facial screens for emergency workers, security guards and pharmacists. He decided not to stockpile cigarettes to fulfil a promise to his teenage daughter.

"I was supposed to have stopped in December, but I kept postponing it," he said. "I promised my 13-year-old daughter to stop if she improved her school grades. She did, but it's been a real struggle. She was disappointed and I've been feeling terrible about it."

Another smoker trying to quit is Apollo Mafuduka, of Beaufort West, who ran out of cigarettes a few days into the lockdown.

"I jumped at the opportunity to quit," said the nurse, who has been a smoker for 30 years. "I told myself that I'm not going to hunt for cigarettes. Now I don't even bother counting the days without cigarettes. I'm very determined to make it work."

A study published on Thursday said smoking might raise the risk of Covid-19 by elevating enzymes that allow the corona-virus to gain access to lung cells.

Smokers may have elevated levels of an enzyme called ACE-2, which helps the virus enter cells in their lungs, where it replicates, according to research in the European Respiratory Journal based on data from China.

Dr Sharon Nyatsanza, of the National Council against Smoking, said quitting would strengthen smokers' immune systems, which are weakened by tobacco use.

The Heart & Stroke Foundation said another benefit of quitting during the lockdown was that smokers were surrounded by family, who could help them deal with the anxiety and stress of withdrawal symptoms.

Foundation head Prof Pamela Naidoo said reminding yourself that you are not the only one who is anxious about the health crisis, and learning about withdrawal symptoms, would help smokers to deal better with their decision.

"Smoking is not only one of the drivers of many medical conditions but is the direct cause of selective diseases such as cancer and respiratory disorders," she said. "If a smoker becomes infected with Covid-19, their lung capacity is significantly decreased and their existing respiratory condition worsens, further reducing the flow of oxygen to the body. Like all bad habits, smoking can be unlearned."

The article originally appeared in the Sunday Times.

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