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Strong action is needed to help women and girls quit tobacco and prevent young people from ever starting

A new report details the tobacco industry’s long history of developing cigarette brands and predatory marketing campaigns that deliberately target women and girls and how that has led to devastating consequences for women’s health at every stage of their lives. The report documents the industry’s aggressive, century-long targeting of women and girls, utilizing themes of beauty, fashion, freedom and sophistication – and often playing into sexist tropes – while ignoring or downplaying the serious health risks of tobacco use. The report demonstrates that strong action is needed now to protect women’s health and save lives, and it offers proven solutions to prevent young girls from starting to smoke or vape and help all women quit using tobacco.      


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. 


Smoking harms and kills both men and women, but women face unique and even greater health risks from smoking than men.  This Women’s Month, health organisations forming part of the #protectournext partnership, including the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa (HSFSA), are driving awareness of these risks and encouraging women to quit through the Tobacco: The Ugly Truth campaign. 

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Tobacco use is the preventable cause of cancer in the world. Estimates suggest that approximately one-third of all cancers are caused by tobacco use. In South Africa, lung cancer features among the top five cancers in the country. 

In support of World Lung Cancer Day on 1 August, the Protect our Next partner organisation, Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) is calling for more awareness and understanding of lung cancer risk factors, particularly smoking, as well as emphasising the importance of screening and early detection.  “The best way to lower your risk of lung cancer is to avoid tobacco smoke completely. It’s never too late to stop smoking, but the sooner you stop, the better,” says Lorraine Govender, National Manager: Health Promotion for CANSA.

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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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