Stay at home, say NO to tobacco and save South Africa! This is the message from the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) and the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa as they encourage smokers to take the opportunity to quit during lockdown and protect the health of their families.
The campaign comes against a backdrop of tobacco companies fuelling the debate on the ban on cigarette sales during lockdown, even as more evidence emerges that smokers face double the risk of serious COVID-19 complications. “We applaud government’s efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic and call upon the government to stand by the decision to ban the sale of cigarettes as lockdown continues,” says Savera Kalideen, Executive Director of NCAS. “However, while banning the sale of cigarettes and related tobacco products during the 21-day lock down period was a hugely positive move, we also remain concerned with longer term tobacco control measures to protect the right to health of all our people.”
Kalideen says that a number of positives are emerging as a result of the ban. “We believe social perceptions around smoking are changing at this time and the ban has encouraged many people to quit completely. Besides the obvious lung and cardiovascular health impacts, the World Health Organisation says the very act of smoking increases the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth. Sharing cigarettes and hookah pipes, common in many areas of South Africa, would also spread the virus. Importantly, the ban helps to protect non-smokers and children who are at increased risk of being exposed to tobacco smoke at home during lockdown. Finally, I’m sure not going out to buy cigarettes has prevented many people from being exposed and bringing the virus back home to their families.”
Kalideen holds firm that the devastating health, social, economic and environmental effects of tobacco use far outweigh any benefits that continuous production and sale of tobacco products might have for the South African economy. “While big tobacco argues that R14.4 billion was collected from excise taxes on tobacco in the last financial year, economic arguments must consider that tobacco use costs South Africa more than R59 billion a year in addressing the harm from tobacco-related illnesses.”
Even beyond lockdown, the organisations are calling for government to continue to protect South Africans from tobacco harm by strengthening tobacco control measures. “COVID-19 has made it even clearer that tobacco harm is itself a pandemic, causing 115 deaths each day in South Africa,” says Kalideen. “We need urgent and bold action on tobacco control - but South Africa’s Control of Tobacco and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill has still not been passed, 18 months after public consultation ended. We call on government to protect our right to clean air, a healthy life and the rights of children to be free of addiction and pass the Bill now.”
COVID-19 and smoking: know the facts
The use of tobacco products weakens the immune system making it harder for the body to fight off bacterial infections like Tuberculosis, and viral infections like COVID-19. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says smoking may increase the risk of infection with the virus and the risk of worse outcomes.
New analysis based on data from China is emerging giving evidence of the link between smoking and heightened vulnerability to COVID-19. The European Respiratory Journal says smoking might raise the risk of Covid-19 by elevating ACE-2 enzymes, allowing the coronavirus to gain access to lung cells and replicate. A review from Tobacco Induced Diseases shows that there were higher percentages of current and former smokers among patients in China that needed ICU support, mechanical ventilation or who had died, and a higher percentage of smokers among the severe cases. Smokers are approximately 2.4 times more likely to be admitted to an ICU, need mechanical ventilation or die compared to non-smokers.
Dr Catherine Egbe of the South African Medical Research Council says that it is not a surprised that smoking increases the risk of disease progression of COVID-19 since there is conclusive evidence that smoking causes respiratory diseases and COVID-19 is a respiratory disease. She adds that one good way to fight off the coronavirus is to ensure our respiratory and cardiovascular systems are not compromised by the presence of toxins from substances like tobacco smoke.
Prof Pamela Naidoo of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa says smoking is a high-risk factor for diseases such as COPD, diabetes, TB, cardiovascular diseases and cancers; all of which have been cited as underlying conditions associated with higher vulnerability to COVID-19. “In the era of COVID-19, why add smoking or vaping to all the existing risk factors such as obesity, diabetes and cardio-metabolic diseases. It simply increases your susceptibility to becoming infected with the virus.”
Protect your family
The lockdown means many smokers are spending more time at home. Dr Melissa Wallace, Head of Research at CANSA, emphasises there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. “Quitting smoking is particularly important now as we are confined to our homes and smaller spaces. When we smoke, those around us breathe second-hand smoke containing the same harmful and disease-causing chemicals that weaken the immune system. It is also linked to many health problems in children, including poor lung development, sudden infant death syndrome, ear infections, and increased cases of asthma. While it can be daunting, there is great value for you and your family in quitting smoking right now, and the benefits in terms of your physical and mental health can be felt in a short space of time.”
While many smokers may feel the damage has been done, Dr. Sharon Nyatsanza of NCAS says stopping smoking prevents a further decline in lung health and overall health condition. “Yes, the harm from tobacco, which is different from person to person, cannot be reversed in a day, but by stopping smoking you are taking a vital step to take back control of your health. To date there is no cure for Covid-19, so it’s best to look ahead and do what we can to protect ourselves and our families. Access all the resources like the Quitline, and if you still struggle to quit completely, please protect your family as much as possible by practicing tobacco distancing and isolation.”
Dr. Nyatsanza concludes, “Even without a respiratory virus pandemic engulfing the globe, it is harmful to smoke. It’s up to each of us to stay home, say no to tobacco and save South Africa. Let’s protect our next.”
Call the National Council Against Smoking - Quitline at 011 720 3145 for tips to help you stop smoking. www.againstsmoking.co.za
CANSA runs an online programme which also provides support and information for smokers who would like to stop smoking onhttp://www.ekickbutt.org.za/.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa has professional staff that can provide educational support during the challenging time you may face during trying to quit tobacco smoking. During the period of the lockdown, you may call 084 2507374 for assistance.
Vardavas CI, Nikitara K. COVID-19 and smoking: A systematic review of the evidence. Tobacco Induced Diseases2020;18(March):20. doi:10.18332/tid/119324.
Resources/Images/Additional releases – please visit our press office at http://www.pressa.africa/protectournext
Available for interview:
Savera Kalideen, Executive Director of NCAS
Dr. Sharon Nyatsanza, Project &Communications Manager, NCAS
Dr Catherine Egbe, Specialist Scientist: Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drug Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council
Lorraine Govender, National Advocacy Co-Ordinator, CANSA
Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO, The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa
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