Shocking data revealed: Smoking in South Africa linked to financial ruin

Smoking has many adverse effects on health, including causing damage to the respiratory system. Picture: Idin Ebrahimi/ Unsplash

Smoking has many adverse effects on health, including causing damage to the respiratory system. Picture: Idin Ebrahimi/ Unsplash

Published May 31, 2023


According to the South Africa Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2021, tobacco usage remains a significant problem in South Africa, with about 29.4% of adults in the country being current tobacco users. Men make up the majority of current tobacco users at 41.7%, while women represent 17.9%.

Even more alarming is that 21.5% of children aged 13-15 are current tobacco users, with boys accounting for 24.3% and girls 19.0%. MedShield Medical Scheme highlights that smoking could negatively impact an individual's medical aid cover and every aspect of their health.

Smoking has many adverse effects on health, including causing damage to the respiratory system.

Smoking irritates and inflames the lining of the airways, leading to a variety of chronic diseases such as bronchitis, emphysema, shortness of breath, coughing, and difficulty breathing.

These conditions can permanently damage one's lungs, and smoking increases the risk of developing lung cancer.

Sadly, over 39 000 South Africans die each year from tobacco-related diseases, including ischemic heart disease, stroke, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer. About 10% of male deaths and 5% of female deaths (7.5% overall) in South Africa are tobacco-related. Furthermore, tobacco usage accounts for over 13% of non-communicable disease-related deaths in the country.

Second-hand smoke also poses a significant danger, with over 11.2% of adults who work indoors exposed to smoking in enclosed workplaces, 10.8% in restaurants, and 18% inside their homes.

Similarly, 39.3% of youth aged 13-15 are exposed to second-hand smoke in places outside their home, while 29% are exposed at home. MedShield medical scheme urges South Africans to take action and quit smoking to avoid the negative consequences on their health and medical aid cover.

The impact of smoking on overall health:

Smoking has long been known to be detrimental to one's health, and the scientific evidence behind its impact on various body systems is well documented.

Studies have shown that smoking can have a significant impact on the cardiovascular system, causing damage to blood vessels and increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The chemicals in tobacco smoke can increase blood pressure and heart rate, leading to a harder-working heart that has to pump blood through the body under greater strain.

Smoking can also cause atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty deposits build up in arteries and restrict blood flow, leading to a range of health problems.

The digestive system is also affected by smoking, with an increased risk of developing disorders such as peptic ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and colon cancer. Smoking can interfere with the absorption of nutrients in the digestive system, leading to malnutrition.

The effects smoking in men and women

For women, smoking can lead to decreased fertility and an increased risk of pregnancy complications, including miscarriage, premature birth, and low birth weight.

Smoking during pregnancy can also lead to long-term health problems for the child, including an increased risk of asthma, respiratory infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Men who smoke can experience decreased sperm count and motility, as well as erectile dysfunction and an increased risk of testicular cancer.

Smoking also significantly impacts overall health and well-being, increasing the risk of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

It can worsen asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), leading to decreased quality of life and increased healthcare costs.

With mounting evidence of the harmful effects of smoking, it is more important than ever to quit smoking and seek support in leading a healthier lifestyle.

How smoking affects medical aid cover

In South Africa, medical aid schemes generally cover smoking-related illnesses and diseases, however, they may contain smoking-related limitations and exclusions.

Most insurance companies will cover smoking-related diseases like lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and heart disease as part of their recommended prescribed minimum benefits (PMBs).

PMBs include diagnosing, treating, and caring for any emergency medical condition and 27 chronic diseases, including some smoking-related illnesses.

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