Health organisations partnering in the #protectournext initiative, a campaign focused on reducing tobacco harm in South Africa, have welcomed the launch of the WHO year-long global Commit to Quit campaign leading up to World No Tobacco Day in May 2021. Organisations including the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), CANSA, the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) and the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) have stressed the importance of quitting and permanent cessation, especially as South Africa is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases in wave two of the pandemic.
Dr Sharon Nyatsanza of NCAS says, “South Africa is one of the focus countries for the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Commit to Quit campaign. If you need 100 reasons to quit tobacco – they’re right there. We agree that more can be done to create more quit-friendly environments in South Africa, including scaling up smoking cessation support and passing the Tobacco Control Bill.”
According to WHO, Commit to Quit will help create healthier environments that are conducive to quitting tobacco by advocating for strong tobacco cessation policies; increasing access to cessation services; raising awareness of tobacco industry tactics, and empowering tobacco users to make successful quit attempts through “quit & win” initiatives.
“As #protectournext partners, we share these focus areas and will do as much as possible to support the implementation in South Africa,” says Nyatsanza. “Policies such as higher taxation, smoke-free public areas, graphic health warnings and standardised packaging create a more quit-friendly environment. Besides the urgent adoption of the Bill, we need government to heed the WHO's call and accelerate strong cessation services to improve health, save lives and save money. These include providing access to resources like nicotine replacement therapy, brief advice, toll-free quit lines, mobile and digital cessation services, and other tools that are proven to help people quit.”
The WHO states that COVID-19 pandemic has led to millions of tobacco users making more attempts to quit. The campaign will support at least 100 million people as they try to give up tobacco through communities of quitters. In South Africa, the pandemic and the ban on the sale of tobacco products provided the impetus needed to quit an unhealthy addiction, and they will need to fight the urge to relapse, says Nyatsanza. The message for smokers is clear – commit to quit and protect your lungs in the time of Covid-19. “Support is available for those who have quit to remain committed during this festive season. They need to resist the temptation and realise that yes, one cigarette will hurt, as one leads to another and you can quickly derail all the progress made.”
Lorraine Govender of CANSA says, “Together with our partner organisations, CANSA fully support this critically important initiative launched by the WHO. 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. With the coronavirus pandemic still amongst us, now is the time to take care of your own lungs by not smoking cigarettes, hookah, using e-cigarettes or consuming snuff.”
Dr. Catherine Egbe of SAMRC notes that e-cigarettes, are not approved or recommended by the WHO as a smoking cessation aid. “Growing evidence shows that these new products are associated with health harms including increased risk of stroke, bronchitis and cardiovascular diseases. More research is needed both on the effectiveness of the products as a smoking cessation aid, as well as to better understand the health harms associated with use. Many e-cigarette users have become addicted to using these products because most of them also contain nicotine, but the aim of the WHO’s Commit to Quit campaign is not for smokers to change their products of addiction, but to quit for good.”
Professor Pamela Naidoo of the HSFSA emphasises the immediate benefits of quitting. “Within a few days, your immune system gets stronger and the risk of heart attacks and strokes starts to reduce. Tobacco smoking is one of the key risk factors for the onset of hypertension and CVD, two key co-morbidities for COVID-19 in South Africa. Consequently, tobacco smokers may have more severe complications from COVID-19 if they have multi-morbidity. We encourage more smokers to Commit to Quit to reduce the risk of NCDs and the likelihood of a severe illness should they contract COVID-19. Our government is on the right track around fiscal and health policies for tobacco control, but what is needed is the monitoring of adherence to the legislation.”
#protectournext tips to make quitting easier:
Know why you want to quit
Write down a list of the reasons why you want to stop smoking - be it for health, to save money or to protect your loved ones. Put the list on your phone, stick it on your fridge or anywhere you will see it often. This will serve as a reminder and help you resist the urge to smoke and go on for another day.
Commit to your quit date
Choose a quit date and commit to 21 smoke-free days, making solid plans on how to deal with cravings. Make it a day that you are not under too much stress, but do not delay it any longer. These 21 days are give you a chance to develop healthy habits and stop smoking.
Identify your smoking patterns
To stay away from smoking, it is also important to know when you smoke, what is also called the smoking pattern. Plan on how to avoid these situations and plan alternatives to smoking, like eating an apple or anything that distracts you.
Have tools to deal with cravings
Cravings usually last for about 15 – 20 minutes. When the craving hits, know that it will only last for a short while at a time. Take walks around your home, talk to your supportive family or friends or to ex-smokers. Try carrots and sugar free gums, drink water and keep yourself busy until the cravings go away. Read your quit motivations out loud. The trick is to distract yourself until the craving to smoke passes.
It is important to avoid smoking triggers. Many associate smoking with alcohol use, so if this is you, try and keep to those virgin cocktails.
To keep going, also reward yourself – you deserve it. Every single day without a cigarette deserves a reward, and even bigger rewards if you go past the 2-week mark.
Use the best cessation aids
You can also consider using medication to help in stopping smoking. Pharmacists can guide you in choosing which smoking cessation medication to use. The smoking cessation medications which are approved as effective and safe include nicotine replacement therapies such as Nicotine gums, patches, sprays and lozenges, which are available over-the-counter at most South African pharmacies. Other prescription drugs like varenicline are also available, all these work by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Remember that stopping smoking may be challenging, but not impossible, and worth it for the health benefits. Call the National Council against Smoking Quitline on 011 7203145 for support and more tips on how to stop smoking. The Heart and Stroke Foundation and CANSA also have professional staff that can provide educational support during the challenging time you may face when trying to quit tobacco smoking.
Call the National Council Against Smoking - Quitline at 011 720 3145 for tips to help you stop smoking. www.againstsmoking.co.za
CANSA runs an online programme which also provides support and information for smokers who would like to stop smoking on http://www.ekickbutt.org.za/.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa has professional staff that can provide educational support during the challenging time you may face during trying to quit tobacco smoking. During the period of the lockdown, you may call 084 2507374 for assistance.
Available for interview:
Dr. Sharon Nyatsanza, Project &Communications Manager, NCAS
Lorraine Govender, National Advocacy Co-Ordinator, 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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