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10 October 2012

SA smokers are burning cash

SA smokers, many of whom aren't old enough to legally buy cigarettes, are handing over R400-plus a month to Big Tobacco. Some pay R1600 or more. Yet most would love to quit.

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SA smokers, many of whom aren't old enough to legally buy cigarettes, are handing over R400-plus a month to Big Tobacco. Some pay R1600 or more. Yet most would love to quit.

These are some of the findings from Health24's Great South African Smoking Survey 2012.

A good mix of smokers and non-smokers took part in the survey: about 39% were smokers; the rest were either people who've never smoked, or who have quit for good. The national stats are that about 30% of South Africans smoke.

Rands up in smoke

The costs of smoking add up: smokers spend from about R200 per month for 5 cigarettes a day, to R1620 for 41 cigarettes a day – and more for even heavier smokers.

About 65% of survey respondents spend over R400 per month on cigarettes.

Most smokers want to be ex

Ironically enough, given the amount they spend on cigarettes, the majority of smokers (76%) said they wouldn't pay more than R300 per month for a 3-month course of smoking cessation therapy.

Yet clearly most smokers do want to quit: over 50% said they'd tried to over the past 12 months. The most compelling reasons for quitting smoking were wanting to be healthy or having had a health scare, followed by the cost of cigarettes and pressure from family or a partner to quit.

Starting young: smokers get hooked early

World trends show that most smokers start and get addicted in their impressionable adolescent years, when peer pressure is acute and young people emulate those they see as role models.

A whopping 79% of our respondents say they took their first drag before their 20th birthday, and of those, 43% were younger than 16.

The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) reports that although there has been a slight decrease in numbers of adult smokers in South Africa, they are very concerned that this may be offset by an increase in numbers of youth and women starting to smoke. It is the latter two groups, CANSA and anti-tobacco activists claim, that the tobacco companies are increasingly targeting.

Most smokers are pretty heavy

The majority of smokers who took part in the survey say they smoke 11 - 20 cigarettes per day. A heavy smoker is often defined as someone who smokes 15 or more cigarettes per day, putting themselves at greatly increased risk for tobacco-related diseases.

Although there is no known safe level of smoking (or passive smoking) and any exposure to tobacco smoke should be considered potentially harmful, risk for tobacco-related diseases does go up the more you smoke.

A heavy smoker can reduce risk by cutting back; for example, reducing from 20 cigarettes per day to less than 10 has been associated with a 27% reduction in lung cancer risk compared with unchanged heavy smoking.

The “best” cigarette

Most smokers and ex-smokers (45%) said their most satisfying cigarette was one associated with a specific routine, for example after a drink or a meal, or after sex.

Cigarettes being “part of one's routine”, along with nicotine cravings and being in the company of smokers, were cited as the three main reasons smokers fail to quit successfully.

This is a key point anyone wanting to kick the habit should note: smoking behaviour is ingrained and often strongly associated with certain routines and rituals, as well as contexts where groups of people smoke. The habit needs to be “unlearned” and replaced with alternative, healthy activities instead of a vacuum where your only activity is fretting for a cigarette.

It's also important to avoid places where people will be smoking: the sight and smell of others lighting up is well-recognised as being highly triggering. Smokers who want to be ex-smokers should avoid passive smoking too.

Smoking laws finding acceptance

Eighty-four percent of smokers said they obey tobacco legislation, and most respondents have become familiar with the South African laws; specifically, those that state it is illegal to smoke in an indoor or partially enclosed public venue, or in a vehicle with a child under 12 present, and that breaking these laws can warrant a fine of R500 – R50 000.

Do you think there is a new culture of respecting non-smokers' rights, and that smokers are obeying the law as they say they are? Post a comment below.

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, October 2012

References
Cancer Association of South Africa. 2012. Position Statement on Tobacco Products.
Effect of Smoking Reduction on Lung Cancer Risk. JAMA.

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