Updated 28 November 2016

Lighting up in SA

Mention smoking, and watch a room full of people divide into three groups: smokers; non-smokers, and ex-smokers.

Mention smoking, and watch a room full of people divide into three groups: smokers; non-smokers, and ex-smokers.

And people get vicious very quickly: topics range from a person's right to smoke, the effects of secondary smoke, lung cancer, smoking parents, designated smoking areas…

But how many people in South Africa are really smokers? Or ex-smokers? And how many people have never touched a cigarette?

Before we give you the stats, a word on where they come from. Just over 15 000 people filled in Health24’s Health of the Nation Survey, and the weighted results are representative of 2,5 million South Africans over the age of 20, educated to at least matric level, with a monthly income of over R4 500. If that sounds like you, then this survey is about you.

Back to the business of smokers and non-smokers:

  • 56% of us say we have never smoked (47% of men and 66% of women)
  • 44% have smoked at some time in their lives
  • 16% of the smoking group say they have given up (20% of men and 11% of women)

So who is really hooked?

There seem to be two age groups falling into this category: those between 50 and 54, and, disturbingly, those between 20 and 24. Maybe wisdom comes with age: almost half (47%) of the over-60s say they have given up smoking.

And now onto serious stuff: more than half (53%) of hooked smokers have used illegal drugs at some point in their lives, whereas 90% of the non-smokers have never touched the stuff. In other words “hooked” smokers are twice as likely as the average person to use illegal drugs regularly.

But that's not where the bad news ends (no smirking from the non-smokers):

  • 13% of hooked smokers say they did not yet have, or did not plan to have children (the average is 8%)
  • they were almost twice as likely as the average person to use sleeping pills regularly (7% vs 4%)
  • and, lastly, they were half as likely as the average person to run marathons “regularly” (3% vs 6%)

The over-60s still have more of an excuse than the 20-somethings. There was a time when tobacco companies were punting smoking as a health benefit. The dangers were not highlighted. And a lot of people got hooked. But if you're 25, what's your excuse?

(Susan Erasmus,, October 2008


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