LETHAL PASS: New South African research has confirmed the detrimental effects of tobacco.Picture: Adnan Abidi / Reuters
The international theme for World No Tobacco Day on May 31 is “Tobacco - Threat to development”.

New South African research confirms the detrimental effects of tobacco, even in the first year of life.

Smoking rates in South Africa have decreased from 33% to 21%, mostly thanks to legislation and taxation.

However, the decline in smoking has plateaued over the last decade, and South Africans still smoke too much - with nearly 8 million adults lighting up 27 billion cigarettes every year.

Smoking prevalence remains the highest in the Western Cape, where 42% of men and one in four women still smoke.

“Smoking increases your risk for heart attacks and stroke, lung cancer, pneumonia and emphysema - and also doubles your risk of tuberculosis,” said Professor Richard van Zyl-Smit of the University of Cape Town’s Lung Institute.

“Some 50% of smokers will die early - 14 years earlier on average - from a smoking-related disease."

Smoking habits often start young and children of smokers are more likely to start smoking themselves.

The latest South African Global Youth Tobacco Survey reports that 17% of Grade 8 to Grade11 pupils smoke cigarettes regularly. A more recent study found similar figures among Western Cape university students, with the use of waterpipes, commonly known as hubbly bubblies or hookahs, rapidly increasing.

“Perhaps the most worrying finding is that 66% of high school pupils don't feel confident enough to ask someone not to smoke around them.

“This highlights just how vulnerable even a 17-year-old is to second-hand smoking,” says Dorothy Du Plooy, The Cancer Association of South Africa's (Cansa) general manager, Southern Business Unit. Tragically, the damage inflicted by second-hand smoking starts about 18 years earlier.

“The consequences of second-hand smoking around infants and even unborn children are well known. Tobacco affects foetal development, increasing the risk of stillbirths, miscarriages, premature births, certain congenital malformations, poor foetal growth and sudden infant death syndrome,” said Professor Tony Westwood, head of paediatrics at Somerset Hospital, Western Cape Department of Health.

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