As South Africa’s Control of Tobacco and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill continues to await conclusion by the National Department of Health, a full two years after public consultation was completed, the City of Cape Town, our seat of parliament, is moving ahead with plans to become a smoke-free city. The City announced public buildings could soon become smoke-free as part of its participation in the Bloomberg Partnership for Healthy Cities, a global network of 70 cities committed to saving lives by preventing non-communicable diseases (NCDS) like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and chronic lung disease. Smoking is one of the risk factors for these diseases.
Tobacco harms young and old, men and women. Women and children, however, face unique challenges and may be more vulnerable to the hazards of tobacco use than men. Women and children exposed to tobacco are more likely than men to develop coronary heart disease over their lifetime, as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. Additionally, exposure to tobacco through smoking or passive smoking imposes female specific health concerns for women and children. Pregnant women and their unborn babies are also at risk to tobacco harms.
The temporary ban on the sale of tobacco products was lifted at midnight, 17 August, based on the reduction in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions, as well as the recovery rate, among other indicators. Some key health and associated 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.
Smoking is very dangerous for anyone and can lead to preventable disease, and even death. However, while many are aware that smoking causes cardiovascular disease and cancer, many don’t know that smoking carries particular additional risks for women. Smoking can have a negative impact on female reproductive health, as well cause cervical and breast cancer. Second-hand smoke is also a major risk for women. Nearly 1 in 6 people who die from exposure to smoking, are not smokers. Twice as many women die of exposure to second-hand smoke as men, according to The Tobacco Atlas. Infants exposed in-utero to tobacco smoke toxins, through maternal smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke, frequently experience reduced lung growth and function. Young children exposed to second-hand smoke are at risk of the onset and exacerbation of asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis, and frequent lower respiratory tract infections.
Women in government and civil society organisations have long led the fight to protect South Africans from the dangers of tobacco and tobacco-related products like e-cigarettes or vape products, leaving an important legacy.
Protect Our Next
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Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that in South Africa (SA) alone, smoking results in more than half of lung cancer deaths, 37% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease deaths, and over 20% of cardiovascular deaths and tuberculosis (TB) deaths. Smoking-related TB deaths are especially prevalent in South Africa, due to a higher vulnerability of HIV-positive individuals to TB. Because it attacks the lungs, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke or vape.
The new Control of Tobacco and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill will make it easier for South Africans to choose smoke-free lives, regulate the danger of e-cigarettes and decrease the impact of second-hand smoke on the majority of the population, who are non-smokers. Why is taking time to implement? Tobacco industry profits are at the expense of addicted smokers, their families, and public health. Together, the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa are steadfast in campaigning for the new Bill to be passed. It’s time for our people and our government to show leadership in implementing global best practice to curb the onslaught of big tobacco.
Zanele Mthembu, Public Health Development and Policy Consultant
Savera Kalideen, Executive Director of the National Council Against Smoking
Sharon Nyatsanza, Project and Communications Manager, National Council Against Smoking
Lorraine Govender, National Advocacy Co-Ordinator, Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA)
Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO, The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa
Dr Catherine Egbe, Specialist Scientist: Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drug Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council
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