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Lockdown and a lack of cigarettes for World No Tobacco Day
Author: Dr. Lynne Julie
Published: 27/05/2020

Ever since the ban on tobacco products came into effect, people have been laughing at all the “ZOL" memes and videos doing the rounds. People are frustrated and many have resorted to making use of the black market to gain access to tobacco products – often at over-inflated prices.

Tobacco kills more than 8 million people globally every year. More than 7 million of these deaths are from direct tobacco use and around 1.2 million are due to non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

In South Africa,

  • 37% of men aged 15 or over smoke
  • 8% of women aged 15 or over smoke
  • Most people smoke between one and nine cigarettes a day
  • Smoking has decreased since 1998
  • $790m was raised in government revenue from smoking during the 2015/2016 financial year

​Smokers are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19

In March, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, because smoking means that fingers (and possibly COVID-19 contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with the lips, it increases the possibility of transmission of the virus from hand to mouth.

The WHO added that smoking products, such as water pipes, often also involve the sharing of mouthpieces and hoses, which could facilitate the spread of COVID-19 in communal and social settings.

Smokers will likely have worse COVID-19 symptoms

In a statement in May, the WHO said a review of studies by public health experts found that smokers are more likely to develop severe disease with COVID-19, compared to non-smokers.

Tobacco smoking is a known risk factor for many respiratory infections and increases the severity of respiratory diseases. COVID-19 is an infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs. Smoking impairs lung function making it harder for the body to fight off coronaviruses and other diseases.

Tobacco is also a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes, which put people with these conditions at higher risk for developing severe illness when affected by COVID-19. Available research suggests that smokers are at higher risk of developing severe disease and death.


What about the research that suggests that nicotine may protect one against COVID-19?

A study released by a French Hospital in April 2020 indicated that a tobacco substance, possibly nicotine, may be preventing smokers from being infected with the coronavirus.

Its findings were based on the hospital's own observations and on scientific literature. However, the WHO has strongly advised that there is insufficient information to confirm this.


So maybe now is the time to quit smoking!

Useful Tips to Help You Quit Smoking

  • Decide on a date to quit smoking and do it – unfortunately, the decision to quit has been made for you, thanks to the cigarette ban — but if you are to succeed, it's a decision you will have to embrace. If you have a few cigarettes left, work out when you'll smoke your last one and prepare yourself for the fight that lies ahead.
  • Throw away all reminders of smoking: cigarette packets, ashtrays, lighters.
  • Drink lots of water – it will help flush the nicotine from your body.
  • Give your mouth and hands something else to do.
  • Become more active and exercise i.e. walk, or jog.
  • Change your routine. Avoid smokers and things that make you want to smoke for the first couple of days.
  • Tell your family and friends that you are trying to quit so that they can offer you support.
  • You may experience some dizziness, headaches or coughing once you have stopped smoking. This is normal and should improve after a day or two and disappear within 14 days.
  • The first 2 to 3 days are the most difficult, after that it gets easier. Your cravings will reduce and eventually disappear.
  • If you are worried about gaining weight, eat at regular times during the day. Snack on fruit between meals. Take time for exercise. Not all ex-smokers gain weight.
  • Do not use a crisis or special occasion as an excuse for “just one" cigarette. One cigarette leads to another and another…


You can turn to the following organisations for support:

  • Call the NCAS (National Council Against Smoking) quit line on 011 720 3145. They also send daily support via WhatsApp messages
  • Sign up for the CANSA (Cancer Association of South Africa) free eKick Butt programme at This online programme uses as combination of e-mails, surveys and downloads to coach you through the quitting process.
  • The Heart and Stroke Foundation can be contacted at 084 250 7374 for support and assistance in quitting smoking during lockdown.
  • Campus Health Service can assist with the quitting process. Make an appointment today to sit down and discuss how to proceed.

Campus Health Service: Please call to make an appointment (no walk ins at this time)

  • Stellenbosch Campus: 021 808 3494/6
  • Tygerberg Campus: 021 938 9590
  • Physiotherapy Practice: 021 808 3392