Smoking ban a sign of a 'responsible government', says Dlamini-Zuma

04 June 2020 - 17:29
By Ernest Mabuza
The decision to prohibit the sale of tobacco products is to protect human life and reduce the potential strain on the health-care system, says Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. File photo.
Image: Thuli Dlamini The decision to prohibit the sale of tobacco products is to protect human life and reduce the potential strain on the health-care system, says Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. File photo.

The overarching rationale for prohibiting the sale of tobacco products was to protect human life and health, and to reduce the potential strain on the health-care system.

This is the submission made by co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the application by Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita), which wants the court to set aside the regulation prohibiting the sale of tobacco products during lockdown.

Dlamini-Zuma, in an answering affidavit filed to the high court in Pretoria dated June 3, said Fita has not made out its case, and wanted the application dismissed with costs.

Dlamini-Zuma said that from studies undertaken so far, the evidence is that the use of tobacco products increases not only the risk of transmission of Covid-19, but also the risk of developing a more severe form of the disease.

This in turn increases the strain on the public-health system by increasing the number of people who will need access to resources such as intensive care unit beds and ventilators, she said.

“Prohibiting the sale of tobacco products during level 4 of the lockdown serves to reduce these risks,” she said.

She added that prohibiting the sale of tobacco products has proven to be an effective measure for reducing the number of people smoking, or the amount they smoked.

Dlamini-Zuma said since regulation 27 (which banned the sale of tobacco products on level 4) was promulgated, various organisations within the South African medical fraternity have expressed their support for the prohibition. These include the National Council Against Smoking, the South African Thoracic Society, the College of Public Health Medicine and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of SA.

In her affidavit, Dlamini-Zuma attached expert affidavits from Prof Kennedy Nyamande, head of pulmonology at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, in support of the ban.

Nyamande said the effects of cigarette smoke and other tobacco products on the respiratory system are devastating.

He said many of the immunological abnormalities seen in smokers resolve within six weeks of smoking cessation, normalising the immune system and preventing pulmonary infections.

Dlamini-Zuma attached the affidavit of another expert, Catherine Egbe, the head of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit of the South African Medical Research Council.

Having reviewed the available literature in this area, Egbe concluded smoking increases the risk of contracting and transmitting Covid-19. Egbe said those who smoked were at a greater risk that the disease will progress to a more severe form. These increased risks, in turn, impacted on the public-health system because the more people who contract Covid-19 would lead to the greater strain on the system.

Dlamini-Zuma said the evolving medical literature, now confirmed by the World Health Organisation, showed that smokers were more likely to develop a severe form of Covid-19 compared to non-smokers.

“In a situation of evolving scientific knowledge and with infection numbers rising, a responsible government has to take a cautious approach.

“Prohibiting the sale of tobacco products during lockdown serves to reduce these risks, not only in respect of smokers themselves, but also those who would otherwise be exposed to second-hand smoke under lockdown conditions.”

She said evidence from Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the disease, showed that the provision of ventilators and intubation was critical for patients with severe cases of Covid-19.

“Estimates have shown that there will be shortages of these resources,” she said.