While smoking has long been part of cultural and societal practices, the World Health Organization attributes as many as 8 million deaths as tobacco-related, with 7 million as a direct result of tobacco use and 1.2 million to second-hand smoke.
Bearing in mind South Africa’s dire economic situation, with an estimated 3 million people losing their jobs as a result of restrictions to curb the Covid-19 pandemic, the health and financial benefits should encourage South Africans to stop smoking.
Professor Richard van Zyl-Smit, pulmonologist and head of the Lung Clinical Research Unit (LCRU) at the UCT Lung Institute, says research conducted by the American-based National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) on the hazards of smoking and the benefits of quitting acknowledges that smokers who start smoking early in adult life and do not quit, lose a decade of life expectancy versus non-smokers.
“Chronic, noncommunicable diseases (NCD) are on the rise, with tobacco consumption being one of the important contributing risk factors for dying of an NCD. Quitting will help protect not only personal health, but those around you from exposure to secondhand smoke. Smoking cessation, especially before the age of 40, results in a reduced risk in mortality,” he says.
The World Health Organization suggests that quitting allows the lungs and heart to function better from the moment a user stops. Within 20 minutes, the elevated heart rate and blood pressure associated with smoking immediately drop, and after 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in the bloodstream returns to normal. Within two to twelve weeks, circulation improves and lung function increases, and after one to nine months, coughing and shortness of breath decreases.
“In addition to an improved quality of life and the ability to breathe, you can also taste and smell better. When you quit smoking, your immune system will become stronger which will reduce the amount you get sick” says Professor Van Zyl-Smit.
It’s not just personal health that is affected, but the economic growth and stability of South Africa as local smokers cost the government money. This is backed up by research conducted by Dr Hana Ross and colleagues at UCT that suggests that South African smokers cost the government in excess of R42 billion. This is largely attributed to increased healthcare costs, productive lives lost, and productive days lost through illness.
On a consumer level, many South Africans face a massive challenge with debt. The Debt Counselling Association estimates that in 2020 as many as 10 million South Africans had bad debt, with an average of 63% spending their after-tax income on repayments – a number which has certainly increased as of late with banks reporting a surge in provisions for bad debt.
Taking into account that the average pack of cigarettes costs around R40, if one indulges in a pack of 20 cigarettes per day, the habit amounts to over R1200 per month and over R14 400 per year. One could argue that given the current economic standpoint of many South Africans as a result of Covid-19, this additional expenditure could be put to better use, such as for food, housing, or to invest in education and improve household financial situations.
While quitting smoking tobacco can be difficult, with the right mindset, a commitment to quit, and the right medical intervention, it can be done. However, oftentimes people benefit from different types of support whilst withdrawing from nicotine, such as counselling and medication.
“It is important to note that withdrawal symptoms may be severe – but ‘won’t kill you’ as some might think. Withdrawal from nicotine can make it difficult to quit, but it is important to note that the symptoms usually dissipate within two to four weeks. Support from friends and family will help during those difficult days. Along with this, people believe that stopping smoking will cause them to put on weight. However, smoking has actually been shown to negatively affect one’s metabolism. With these points in mind, it is important to note that quitting is possible and the benefits outweigh the negative impact of smoking,” says Professor Van Zyl-Smit.
While there are different ways to quit smoking such as stopping abruptly, there are quitting methods that have helped many people kick the habit. Should you be looking to quit, speak to your health-care professional about the solutions most appropriate for you. For more information, visit www.QuitToday.co.za.
World No Smoking Day is held annually on the second Wednesday of March. This year it was on March 10.