Smoking ban proves to be efficient, study finds
Cape Town - Two Human Science Research Council (HSRC) surveys show that 88 percent of smokers are not able to buy cigarettes during the lockdown, suggesting the ban is efficient in reducing cigarette access and use.
The HSRC conducted online surveys with more than 50 000 people between March 27 and April 2 and among 19 330 people from 8-24 April.
The surveys showed that, overall, only 11.8 percent of smokers were able to buy cigarettes during the lockdown.
Almost a quarter (23.5 percent) of smokers in informal settlements and 16 percent of those in townships were able to buy cigarettes.
This was much higher than the corresponding rates for smokers in city (9.9 percent), suburb (8.2 percent) and farm (7.3 percent) communities.
Cigarette buying was higher in people who had lower confidence in protecting themselves and their families from Covid-19 infection.
Cigarette buying was also found to be more prevalent among those who were able to buy alcohol than those who were not able to buy alcohol:
Seventy-two percent of people who bought alcohol also bought cigarettes.
Cigarette buying was also more prevalent among those who were able to drink alcohol with friends: 26 percent of people who drank alcohol with friends during the lockdown, also bought cigarettes.
The percentage of participants who came into close contact with someone outside the home, by shaking hands, hugging or kissing, was significantly higher for those who were able to buy cigarettes during lockdown (26.2 percent) than those who were not (9.8 percent).
Over 40 percent of those who were able to buy cigarettes came into close contact (within 2 metre distance) with more than 10 people when away from their homes compared to 26.4 percent of smokers who did not buy cigarettes during lockdown.
The data indicated, therefore, that smokers were not practising appropriate social distancing. Sharing tobacco products like cigarettes or hookah pipes could also increase the risk of Covid-19 transmission in communal and social settings, the HSRC said.
During lockdown non-smokers, including children, the elderly, and women who do not smoke, were at increased risk of exposure to second-hand smoke because of higher numbers of people being in small spaces.
Over half of smokers reported they live in a household with schoolgoing children.
A third said if self isolation became necessary, their homes did not have a sufficient space to separate family members from the rest of the family.
South Africa had an estimated population of about 41 million people aged 15 years and older in 2019. The 2016 South African Demographic and Health Survey found that about 20 percent of South Africa’s population aged 15 years and older smoked tobacco.
The survey showed that the prevalence of daily or occasional smoking increased with age, peaking at 11 percent among women aged 45-54 years and 45 percent among men age 45-54 years.
“This translates to about 8 million people who smoke countrywide. If only 1 percent of the 8 million smokers were to contract Covid-19, this means 80 000 smokers would be infected. If an estimated 5 percent were to need ICU, this would translate to about 4 000 people needing ICU hospital beds and ventilators. Under current calculations this would exceed the availability of ventilators and place health workers at risk,” the HSRC said.
The HSRC said people who used tobacco products were more likely to experience severe Covid-19 outcomes. Smokers were more likely to be admitted to intensive care, to need mechanical ventilation, or die, compared to non-smokers, the HSRC said.