Tobacco control could have greatest impact on reducing cardiovascular disease
Shaistah Bux comes from a family of smokers, and lost several family members to cardiovascular disease (CVD). The death of her father from a heart attack when she was 16 was devastating, but when two of her uncles also had a heart attacks within months of each other, the tables turned. Shaistah, a smoker since the age of 9, had become a 2-pack a day chain-smoker by 31. She immediately destroyed all her cigarettes and smoking paraphernalia and quit cold turkey. Now, almost two years later, her own risk of heart disease has dramatically reduced.
“I feel so much better, although it is still very challenging to be in smoky social environments, to see people smoking and to be around friends who smoke,” says Bux. “Having struggled with my own nicotine addiction and having seen how smoking can destroy families, I wish people wouldn’t smoke in public spaces and that young people could be more aware of the harms and not be exposed to cigarettes as much.”
The South African government is not doing enough to stop tobacco industry interference with policy. This is revealed by the 2021 Tobacco Industry Interference Index Report (index) for South Africa launched today. The index is an annual review of how governments protect public health policies from tobacco industry influence. The index shows a decline in efforts to protect government policy and processes from tobacco industry influence. South Africa has deteriorated 6 points indicating increases in tobacco industry interference. The index also confirms calls for a tighter grip on tobacco company activities.
Smoking is dangerous for all sexes and ages, and can lead to disease, and even death. But, for women, smoking poses unique challenges. We have all heard the warnings about smoking, especially the increased risk of a number of cancers, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, but we should also be aware of additional health risks for women, such as the impacts on female reproductive health and cervical cancer. Nicotine inhibits oestrogen, with multiple negative effects on women’s health. And while the serious increased health risks may not seem as tangible to young women who smoke – yellow teeth, foul breath, painful periods and early wrinkles could be.
E-cigarettes first emerged in the US in 2007 and have continued to evolve, with the new generation products featuring sleek, high-tech designs. These products have seen large uptake by the youth and have resulted in skyrocketing youth addiction to nicotine. Data reveals about one in five high school students in the US used e-cigarettes in 2020, many of whom were not smokers in the first place. South Africa’s health experts forming part of the #protectournext movement are sounding the alarm, concerned that this ‘e-cigarette epidemic’ will soon take hold in South Africa if e-cigarettes are not better regulated.
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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