Calls for stronger tobacco control as new study links smoking to Covid-19 deaths
Study supports Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's temporary ban on tobacco sales as it established a link between smoking and Covid-19 complications.
National Council Against Smoking (NCAS) says now is the time to tighten tobacco control in the country.
New evidence shows a strong link between smoking and increased risks of severe Covid-19. According to UK Biobank research published in a leading respiratory journal, Thorax, smoking increases the chances of developing severe Covid-19 symptoms by 80% and increases the risk of death by 511% for smokers who smoke 20 or more cigarettes a day. The new study found that current smokers were 80% more likely to be admitted to the hospital than those who had never smoked. Heavy smoking increased the chances of dying from Covid-19 complications by up to 511% for people who smoke a pack and more per day. The study used primary care records, Covid-19 test results, hospital admissions data and death certificates to look for associations between smoking and Covid-19 infection severity between January to August 2020 in over 400,000 participants of the UK Biobank. “This study strengthens the evidence base and establishes a causal link between smoking and serious Covid-19 complications,” said NCAS Deputy Director Dr Sharon Nyatsanza. “It also supports the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister’s case, who has since been granted leave to appeal the Western Cape judgment over the temporary ban on tobacco sales,” said Nyatsanza. “A fundamental justification raised by the government was that tobacco use was linked to worse Covid-19 outcomes and that the ban was necessary for easing the burden on the health system.” Nyatsanza reiterated the importance of passing South Africa’s new Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill as soon as possible. The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) said the death toll from Covid-19 is up to three times more than reported, making South Africa one of the worst affected countries in the world. “We need urgent action to pass this updated and comprehensive set of measures to better protect our nation’s health and reduce the burden of tobacco-related disease on our health system, now and beyond the pandemic,” stressed Nyatsanza. Encouraging people to quit smoking or reducing smoking prevalence should be high on the list of preventive steps, keeping people out of the hospital. “Smoking is related to the risk of getting severe Covid-19, as it is to several non-communicable diseases like cancers and cardiovascular disease. Now is the time to quit smoking,” said Nyatsanza. Smokers who need help to stop smoking can call the NCAS Quitline at 011720 3145 or send a WhatsApp message on 0727664812. (Compiled by Narissa Subramoney)