President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed that the temporary ban on the sale of tobacco products will be lifted at midnight, 17 August, based on the reduction in the number of COVID-19 cases and the number of hospital admissions, among other indicators. Some key health organisations have responded by emphasising that the ban was always a temporary measure, again calling for the Control of Tobacco and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill to finally be passed.
The National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) and the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa and South African Medical Research Council (Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit) are using the “Protect our next” campaign to call for updating the tobacco control legislation in South Africa by passing the Control of Tobacco and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill and to get public support for the Bill. The campaign will also educate the public on tobacco-related harm and encourage people to stop smoking.
Savera Kalideen, executive director of NCAS, says the Bill, when passed, will make it easier for South Africans to choose smoke-free lives, will regulate e-cigarettes or vape products and will decrease the impact of second- hand smoke on the 80% of the population, who are non-smokers.
“The ban was always going to be temporary. However, the long-term need for improvements in the country’s tobacco control policies remains,” says Kalideen. “The Bill is even more critical with the coronavirus pandemic still claiming lives – yet, it has stalled since published for public comments from May to August 2018. We have to ask, why? More must be done to strengthen tobacco legislation in the country as a long-term public health measure to reduce tobacco-related illnesses. The e-cigarette or vaping industry in particular, is operating in a legislative vacuum, introducing more and more young people to nicotine addiction with these toxic products masked in youth-friendly flavours. We call on the Minister of Health to urgently expedite passage of the Bill to protect public health and reduce the burden on the public health system.”
“The health of our nation is key to building a thriving society,” says Public Health Policy and Development Consultant Zanele Mthembu. “We implore our government to move to the next stage and process the Tobacco Control Bill to ensure proper regulation of the tobacco industry and the protection of the health of the nation, primarily the children. Passing the Bill further augurs well for the implementation of National Health Insurance because of the benefits of prevention to the health system.”
Dr. Catherine Egbe, Specialist Scientist: Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drug Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council says, “Now that the tobacco ban has been lifted, it’s time to focus on a comprehensive regulation of tobacco and nicotine products in South Africa. The passing of the tobacco Bill will save lives and prevent the tobacco industry from further targeting our children, youth and women to perpetuate their business of selling nicotine addiction.”
Prof Pamela Naidoo of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa states that the passing of the Tobacco Bill is an important strategy within a multi-pronged approach to reduce the harms of tobacco smoking and associated devices. It helps to set the foundation for the adoption of healthier behaviours.
STOP SMOKING AND QUIT FOR GOOD
For many smokers, the ban provided the impetus needed to quit an unhealthy addiction and they will need to fight the urge to relapse. Egbe says the message for smokers and vapers remains the same – protect your lungs. “Since smoking causes respiratory illnesses like COPD, Emphysema, Asthma and chronic bronchitis, and Covid-19 is a respiratory disease, we want to remind people of this relationship and why it is important that they quit,” says Egbe. “We encourage more smokers to stop smoking to improve their health, and to reduce the likelihood of a severe illness should they contract COVID-19.”
Kalideen says COVID-19 has given smokers all the more reason to stop using all tobacco and tobacco related products. “The COVID-19 pandemic has again brought to the fore the strong association between exposure to tobacco and non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic respiratory disease, and many different kinds of cancers. These comorbidities have impacted negatively on COVID-19 disease progression in those who contracted the disease. Even without COVID-19, more than 42,000 people die from tobacco-related diseases each year. This is an intolerable human cost and is entirely preventable with a reduction in the use of tobacco and tobacco related products. With the threat of the coronavirus pandemic still amongst us, now is the time to take care of your own lungs by not smoking cigarettes, hookah, snuff, or vaping or using e-cigarettes.”
As Prof Naidoo re-iterates, “It’s time individuals take responsibility for their behaviour, which will influence whether they remain healthy or not. The ban was a very clear indication of the ill-effects of tobacco smoking on health outcomes. We believe that South Africans are capable of adhering to healthier behaviours and should now be more mindful of the impact of the use of these products on themselves and the people around them.”
Dr. Sharon Nyatsanza of NCAS highlighted the need for more support at primary healthcare level to help those who smoke to stop smoking, including the availability of nicotine replacement therapy which should be on the essential medicines list in all health facilities. “Besides the urgent adoption of the Bill, we need government to accelerate support to address the needs of smokers who wish to quit but need some help to do so, including providing access to resources like nicotine replacement therapy.”
“We applaud those that have chosen to stop smoking during the lockdown, we encourage you to continue with your quit programme,” says Lorraine Govender of CANSA. “By not smoking, you also benefit the country and our economy. You can use the money you save to buy essential items like food. You can also be part of reducing the burden on the public healthcare system through reducing the amount of tobacco-related diseases. Show your support to immune-compromised patients, including cancer patients, by ensuring a tobacco-free environment. Even without the ban, it’s time to show your solidarity to the health professionals who are working tirelessly to treat patients affected by COVID-19, by taking responsibility for your own health and remaining nicotine free.”
“Strengthening overall tobacco control legislation in support of our WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) commitments will make a powerful difference to South Africa’s public health. We urge government to take rapid action on passing the Bill,” Kalideen concludes.