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As the spotlight falls on breast cancer this October, it's time to give our teens even more reason not to light up. Research indicates that adolescent breast tissue is particularly vulnerable to the carcinogenic properties of tobacco. Considering the high incidence of breast cancer in South Africa, (lifetime risk of 1 in 26 women) and the fact that over 16% of young learners smoke, we must find ways to stop girls from becoming hooked on nicotine, says Lorraine Govender of the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA).  

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September is Heart Awareness Month, culminating on World Heart Day (WHD) on 29 September.  Protect our Next, a coalition of health organisations supporting better tobacco control, is shining a spotlight on tobacco consumption as a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and the tobacco control measures in South Africa that could help prevent unnecessary CVD and other deaths. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA), heart disease and strokes have the second highest mortality rate in South Africa, after TB, HIV and AIDS. CVDs are responsible for one in five deaths, with over 82 000 lives lost annually. 

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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. 

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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.

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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

Tamaryn Brown
Connect Media for Cart Agency
+27 (0) 84 3510560

Nirvana Kishoon 
Cart Agency
+27 (0) 82 823 3167


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