Faiza Saliem has been smoking for the last 40 years. The writer says efforts must be made to prevent youngsters from even starting the habit. Picture: Matthew Jordaan

At least 8% of deaths in SA are related to smoking. We urge smokers to get help to quit smoking and avoid addiction to nicotine, writes Peter Ucko.

Fifty years ago the deathly pall of cigarette smoke hung everywhere. In restaurants, offices and planes, there was an almost permanent plume of toxic tobacco smoke.

Celebrities, politicians and even cartoon characters endorsed smoking.

More than 40 percent of adults smoked in South Africa. Your doctor was probably one of them.

It all changed when US surgeon-general Luther Terry released his authoritative report on January 11, 1964 stating that smoking caused illness and death.

As a result, many steps were taken around the world, including in South Africa. Sadly, there were many delays.

In South Africa health warnings were introduced on cigarette packs, advertising was banned, smoking was banned in public places and cessation assistance via a national free service Quitline was introduced.

In 1976 the Council on Smoking and Health (now NCAS) was established under the executive leadership of Dennis Baird and chairmanship of Harry Seftel.

Back in 1989, Edenvale became the first town in South Africa to ban smoking in municipal buildings.

It seemed incongruous to ask young mothers to bring their infant children to our clinics where other mothers and even nurses were smoking.

I served several terms as mayor of the town.

In 1993 our first Tobacco Products Control Act was introduced. In 1995 health warnings were required on cigarette boxes. Advertising in the print media, on radio and TV also required warnings before it was later prohibited.

In 2001 smoking was banned in public places. At that time South Africa was a world leader in tobacco control.

More recently self-extinguishing cigarettes were introduced to reduce fires, and the resulting damage and death they cause.

Smoking prevalence in South Africa has been reduced to less than 21 percent of adults (over 15). Many lives have been saved, but more must be done.

Despite the reduction in prevalence, smoking remains the biggest single preventable cause of death.

About 8 percent of deaths - about 44 000 in South Africa every year - are smoking-related.

About 10 percent of those deaths (±4 400 people) are a result of exposure to second-hand smoke.

We need to take steps to ensure that more young people decide to never start smoking. We have to ban advertising displays at the point of sale. Picture health warnings must be introduced. We must take action to stop the scourge of hookah pipe (water pipe/hubbly bubbly) smoking. Our youth mistakenly believe that it is safe. Hookah smoking is dangerous. It’s a deadly killer addiction.

The 1964 Luther Terry report has been called one of the most important documents in public health history. Earlier reports in 1950 by epidemiologist Richard Doll showed clearly that smoking caused lung cancer.

In 1952 Reader’s Digest published an article Cancer by the Carton. It contributed to the largest drop in cigarette consumption in the US since the Great Depression.

In 1954, the American Cancer Society announced that smokers had a higher cancer risk.

Even before he was elected as president, Nelson Mandela wrote a letter in 1992 stating that health was a basic human right. He appealed to smokers to quit and regain control of their lives.

He called on South Africans to help achieve the goal of creating a tobacco-free world, which was his desire.

There were other US surgeon-general reports. In 1988 C Everet Koop wrote that involuntary smoking caused disease, including lung cancer, in non-smokers.

He recommended a ban on smoking in public places, stating that “simple separation of smokers and non-smokers does not eliminate exposure to environmental tobacco smoke”.

Richard Carmona was clear in his report in 2006. His extensive analysis was summarised in four short meaningful sentences: “The debate is over. The science is clear. There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. The smallest exposure can cause harm.”

To add to the knowledge of the dangers of cigarettes US surgeon-general Regina Benjamin wrote in 2012 that there were more than 7 000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, about 83 of which caused cancer. But it was the 1964 report of Luther J Terry that really started the revolution.

The Central Drug Authority (CDA) celebrates the 50th anniversary, recognising that much has still to be done.

We need to remove all indoor smoking. Picture health warnings on tobacco packaging must be introduced to save more lives and encourage children to never start smoking.

Above all, the CDA urges all smokers to quit smoking. Get whatever help is needed. Do whatever it takes, but quit smoking and being addicted to nicotine.

We urge you to quit all addictive drugs.

* Ucko is chairman for marketing and communications for the CDA. The primary function of the CDA is to monitor the implementation of the National Drug Master Plan. The CDA ensures co-ordination, facilitates integration of the work of various departments and reports to Parliament through the minister for social development.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily of those of Independent Newspapers

- Pretoria News