A DRAG: Nearly 8 million South Africans smoke. Photo: AP
Cape Town - Peer pressure, curiosity and the desire to “look cool” were the main reasons young people sucking on cigarettes outside False Bay College gave for starting to smoke.

Monique* started three years ago as a 16-year-old pupil because her cousin smoked, and spends around R200 a week on cigarettes.

“I am trying to stop. I want to. I spend a lot of money on cigarettes but I have to smoke. I crave it,” said Monique, whose parents are also smokers.

Amina* and Wanita*, having their last drags before class, also started smoking at school.

“Everyone at Lavender Hill High smokes,” said Amina. “We smoked on school grounds and we never got caught because everyone smells of smoke.

“For us youth, we smoke for the stress,” added Wanita. “Your parents have been skelling (shouting) all night. You get into the taxi to school in the morning and you light a cigarette. Your friends all smoke. There is peer pressure.”

Africa has been identified as a growth market for tobacco companies as anti-tobacco measures in wealthier countries are resulting in declining cigarette sales, according to World Health Organisation director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Tedros opened the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Cape Town on Wednesday.

The rate of smoking among coloured women is one of the highest in the world - 38%. In contrast, around 15% of white women and 3% of African and Indian women smoke, according to the SA Demographics and Health Study results released last year.

Overall, nearly 8 million South Africans smoke. The Western Cape has the highest rate - 42% of men and one in four women smoke. Only 1% of women in Limpopo smoke.

Welcoming delegates to the conference, Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille said the city was trying to educate people about the dangers of smoking.

Meanwhile, the conference heard that a ban on the open display of tobacco products in the UK, phased in between 2012 and 2015, has been effective in deterring young people.

Cigarettes have to be sold behind shutters, and research on 3 800 young people aged 11 to 16 found that, for the vast majority - 83% - this made them feel that it was not okay to smoke.

“No one loves smoking. They smoke because they are addicted. We need to conduct research to find out how to help them so that our children only ever see cigarettes in museums and wonder what they are,” said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi at the conference.

*not their real names - Health-e News