Today is World No Tobacco Day. It is a day set aside by the World Health Organization and global partners every year to raise awareness on the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure, and to discourage the use of tobacco in any form. The Weekly’s Martin Makoni asked Provincial Clinical Program Coordinator for Health Promotion, Healthy Lifestyle Programme Mamajara Francina Moloi about the effect of tobacco use and the situation in the Free State. Makoni also asked Moloi what could be done to improve awareness on the effects of tobacco and what’s being done right now. Excerpts:
The theme for World no Tobacco Day this year is: “Tobacco and Lung Health”. What sort of impact does tobacco use have on human life?
It destroys the lung tissue, thereby disturbing the gas exchange namely, oxygen and carbon dioxide within the lungs. The lung is the main organ in the body which distributes oxygen to all parts of the body through the blood, whereby no organ can survive without oxygen. Tobacco use causes the lung to be susceptible to infection mainly mycobacterial infection which causes TB. Smoking is a predisposing factor to TB.
In the Free State what would you say are the major health conditions caused by the use of tobacco?
We mainly have chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) which are respiratory diseases, asthma, chronic cough, TB, Stroke, heart attack and others.
How has the Provincial Department tried to address that problem over the years?
The provincial health department has been conducting healthy lifestyle campaigns to teach communities about healthy living and to avoid risky behaviours and unfavourable environments. The “World No Tobacco Campaigns” have been commemorated every year in all community settings. We also have Employment Assistance Programmes within government departments. We work with school safety for the implementation of the smoking policies. We are also implementing smoking policies at schools and in health facilities. The making of “No Smoking” signs and creating smoking areas in schools and workplaces and partnerships with other stakeholders such as CANSA (Cancer South Africa) is also another way.
A report called Tobacco Atlas released by American Cancer Society (ACS) and Vital Strategies last year says more than 42 100 South Africans are killed by tobacco-caused diseases every year, yet over 6,3 million adults, aged 15 years, more than 55 000 children ,10-14 years old continue to use tobacco each day in South Africa. What motivates people to continue smoking given such grave statistics ?
Adverts by the tobacco industries remain a problem, and they host cigarette and alcohol events where they give free cigarettes and alcohol. The tobacco industry has a history of making false and misleading claims about “Safer” products of which there is nothing safe about tobacco smoking. Tobacco companies are using sophisticated marketing to promote their new HTPs (Heated tobacco products) including sales through sleek boutique stores and high end locations, launch parties and sponsorship of social events. They are also using online social media which are highly accessible to youth. This type of advertising will inevitably come to the attention of young people who do not smoke and end up smoking. The packaging and labelling of cigarettes is enticing to youth and adults. Cigarette vending machines are in places where they can be easily reached. Most people acknowledge that tobacco products are harmful but they are not aware of some of the main tobacco-related diseases or of the severity of developing them. Tobacco companies also use displays to target children.
How much more dangerous is it when a child smokes compared to an adult smoking?
Children are vulnerable to infections and diseases as they are still growing physical and mentally. Their immaturity makes them to be susceptible to diseases, i.e. what is mild to the adult is fatal to the child.
There are always campaigns advocating for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption and engaging stakeholders across multiple sectors in a fight for tobacco control, are they bearing any fruit given the continued use of tobacco by people of different ages?
There is proof in some African countries with laws banning the display of tobacco products including Gambia, Kenya Uganda and others that there is change. Adults are trying hard to quit but there is a challenge with youths who are still attracted by false promises, advertisements and the easy availability of cigarettes. Some hospitality owners have voluntarily gone smoke free in South Africa in part to reduce costs and in response to customer requests.
Some people are switching to E-cigarettes saying they are less dangerous to human health, how true is it? What happens to the body when one uses them?
E-Cigarettes have tobacco and chemicals which are harmful to the body like normal cigarettes. Nothing relating to smoking is harmless.
Tobacco is said to be a very dangerous form of indoor air pollution; how much risk is phased by none smokers breathing that air?
Second hand smoking is too dangerous, the smoke which is inhaled by the non-smoker causes damage to the lungs, skin and it penetrate to the womb of a pregnant woman and affect an unborn child. It can affect the under-five of age children and cause respiratory diseases e.g. Asthma.
Do you think there is enough information out there on the dangers of using tobacco especially amongst children, and what more you will like to see being done?
There must be more buy-in from political leaders to emphasise the dangers of tobacco smoking. More support is needed for the draft bill by the legislature through organising public hearings, publishing a law to abolish vending machines and there must be no vending machines in public places which are accessed by children.
Plain packaging of cigarettes must be encouraged, designated smoking places must be revisited, there must be no smoking in public premises, tobacco companies should be prohibited from advertising the products in any form among the youth and they should stop false talks of “safe “products. Tobacco products should be too expensive not to be afforded by everyone. No social media advertisement should be allowed in South Africa. There should be large pictorial warnings which are effective in increasing knowledge about risks associated with smoking and can influence future decisions about smoking, motivates the smokers to quit, discourage the non-smokers from starting and keeping ex-smokers from relapsing. E-cigarette regulation must be aimed at helping smokers to quit and preventing young people from starting on e-cigarettes or tobacco.
Despite the known dangers of tobacco use, economies still encourage farmers to grow the crop. What sort of balance would you like to see being struck in order to promote human health?
The National Department of Health is working with the Department of Agriculture to change the crop’s production… farms used for tobacco should be used for vegetables.
There should be awareness campaigns to the farmers about the dangers of chemical fertilisers.