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OPINION: Dear smokers, the war is not against you but Covid-19

Celebs, like much of the nation, are divided on the ban, but I think we need to take a minute to breath

01 May 2020 - 14:00 By Masego Seemela
Smokers are upset about the non-selling of cigarettes during level 4 lockdown.
Smokers are upset about the non-selling of cigarettes during level 4 lockdown.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock


I believe that may be the word to describe how many SA smokers feel at the moment, after watching minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma make a U-turn announcement on the sale of cigarette and tobacco products under level 4 lockdown.

The co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister's announcement comes less than a week after President Cyril Ramaphosa said the sale of cigarettes would be allowed under the eased lockdown, and just two days before the start of the next phase of the lockdown.

It led to thousands flocking to sign a change.org petition for the ban to be lifted. As of Thursday afternoon it had amassed over 400,000 signatures.

I can understand what frame of mind some smokers are currently in at the moment.

Look, I may not be a smoker myself — heck I've never puffed a ciggy in my entire life — but I understand that smoking is a coping mechanism for some people, including those who are dealing with anxiety or trauma-related issues.

Even songstress Simphiwe Dana sympathised, saying the ban will only lead many long-term smokers to develop illnesses.

She shared her thoughts on Twitter saying, “I’m not even a smoker but inhibiting long term smokers from smoking does nothing for their health in the short term, besides just giving them anxiety. Anxiety might trigger other illnesses.”  

Capetonians spoke out about the ban on cigarettes announced by minister of co-operative governance & traditional affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on April 29 2020. This comes less than a week after president Cyril Ramaphosa announced that cigarettes would be back on shelves across the country when the Covid-19 lockdown level is eased to level 4 on May 1 2020.

While many smokers have expressed their anger and disappointment at the government's decision, one can't help but understand where the government is coming from.

I mean, we need to be real here. Will lifting the ban on cigarette sales be of any good during this pandemic?

The government is trying, by all means, to fight against this respiratory disease,

We all know how smoking affects the lungs and weakens the immune system. Now, imagine a smoker with the coronavirus.

Dr Stanton A Glantz, director for the Center for Tobacco Research Control & Education at the University of California, San Francisco, released a study this week confirming that “when someone’s lungs are exposed to flu or other infections the adverse effects of smoking or vaping are much more serious than among people who do not smoke or vape”.

We've all watched the news and seen how scary it is out there in other countries, such as America and Italy, and the evidence is there: the sale of cigarettes will only do more harm than good.

I know I may not relate entirely but I feel that the petition is a bit unfair.

What about those who want the ban on alcohol, salons, clubs to be lifted? Wouldn't it be fair to lift the ban on all those things that people use to “cope” with stress-related issues? 

But I understand that none of those can be lifted, as it would work against what the government is trying to achieve.

Maybe it's time to look at other coping mechanisms.

You may say that you are just as likely to spread the virus buying cigarettes as you would buying bread but why take that risk?

You may also say that cigarettes and alcohol don't carry the same social risks, but what about “smoke breaks” being one of the nation's most popular past times? It's a social experience, that is often accompanied by the dangerous habit of “puff and pass”.

Maybe, like many people in the world, this virus is teaching us to self-introspect and clean out, so that we can come out of this healthier.

We'll need a lot of South Africans to have healthy lungs to help the government fight this disease.

The government is doing a good job at curbing the spread already, so let's not make it any harder with the signing of this petition.