Jun 2020 1st Edition

Cigarette ban will save lives

Written by Silusapho Nyanda

Smokers who contract the coronavirus (COVID-19) are at risk of suffering more severe symptoms.

COVID-19 is a respiratory virus. As such, smokers are twice as likely to suffer more serious symptoms than people who have never smoked, says Dr Catherine Egbe, a specialist scientist at the South African Medical Research Council’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit.

Dr Egbe says that smoking is known to cause many of the underlying medical conditions that have been linked to severe symptoms of COVID-19.

These include:

  • cancers
  • heart disease and stroke
  • asthma
  • diabetes.

 “Even if smoking does not directly cause a smoker to die from COVID-19, it could cause this indirectly because smokers are more likely to have the diseases that could make a person die of the virus,” she says.

In addition to this, cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and generally reduces the body’s ability to fight diseases.

Dr Egbe says that tobacco smoking produces more than 7 000 chemicals; 250 of these chemicals have been confirmed to be toxic to the human body. Out of these 250 chemicals, 69 are known to cause cancer. This reduces the health of smokers as well as those exposed to second-hand smoke, Dr Egbe explains.

She says that those who have TB and asthma are also high-risk patients where COVID-19 is concerned.

“So far, there is evidence to show that those who have asthma are at risk of having severe symptoms or even dying if they contract COVID-19. There is no study that has been published showing TB patients’ risk but the World Health Organisation has warned that it is not unlikely that persons with TB will have poor treatment outcomes if they contract COVID-19.”

She says the decision to ban the sale of cigarettes under the current lockdown level is in the interests of the people.

Sale of cigarette

President Cyril Ramaphosa had initially announced that under Level 4, cigarette sales would be allowed but government reversed the decision after the National Coronavirus Command Council consulted with medical experts and various role-players.

Dr Egbe says apart from the direct health implications of smoking, cigarettes are often shared among friends which can lead to faster community transmission of COVID-19.

“Remember, people are being asked to avoid touching their mouth, nose and eyes. When a person is smoking, he or she will not be able to keep to that hygiene practice,” says Dr Egbe.

In a country with a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, TB, substance abuse and alcoholism, among others, Dr Egbe believes that government made the right call.

She says government is using the data at its disposal to take precautionary measures to continue to protect South Africa from experiencing the scenes witnessed in countries like Italy.

“It’s not a permanent ban; people must remember that,” she says.

Currently, South Africa has a limited number of ventilators and should the number of those needing ventilators spike during the pandemic, the country would find itself in a corner and not be able to help those who need aid.

“We have a little over
3 000 ventilators. Imagine if those above 65 years who are smokers, happen to need ventilators. We will need over 10 000 ventilators only for that group alone. That is one of the things that government is trying to avoid. We hope that people will see this as a good reason to quit smoking,” she says.  


Did you know?

You can call The National Council Against Smoking at 011 720 3145 to assist you to quit smoking.

The Cancer Association of South Africa runs an online programme, which provides support and information for smokers who would like to stop smoking on http://www.ekickbutt.org.za.


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