The tobacco epidemic is one of the largest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than 8 million people a year around the world. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of smoking while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

Roughly 22% of South Africans aged 15 years and older use various tobacco products. A systematic review of five Chinese studies published in Tobacco Induced Diseases, found that risks of a COVID-19 case becoming more severe and leading to death are higher among people who have a history of smoking. South Africa has one of the highest prevalence of tobacco product uses in Africa and presently has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the continent. Putting the country at risk of being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic if nothing is done to curb the spread of the virus and protect vulnerable citizens.

The South African Government cited health-related issues for the tobacco ban, saying those who smoke are more susceptible to being severely affected should they contract the coronavirus. The economic costs of using tobacco are substantial and include significant health care costs for treating the diseases caused by tobacco use as well as the lost human capital that results from tobacco mortality.

In some countries children from poor households are employed in tobacco farming to boost family income. Tobacco growing farmers are also exposed to a number of health risks, including the “green tobacco sickness”.

All forms of tobacco are harmful, and there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco. Cigarette smoking is the most common form of tobacco use worldwide. Other tobacco products include waterpipe tobacco, various smokeless tobacco products, cigars, cigarillos, roll-your-own tobacco, pipe tobacco, bidis and kreteks.

Some Key facts about Tobacco according to the World Health Organisation (WHO):

  • Tobacco kills up to half of its users.
  • Tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.
  • Over 80% of the world’s 1.3 billion tobacco users live in low- and middle-income countries.

Second-hand smoke kills

  • Second-hand smoke is the smoke that fills enclosed spaces when people burn tobacco products such as cigarettes, bidis and water-pipes.
  • There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, which causes more than 1.2 million premature deaths per year and serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
  • Almost half of children regularly breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke in public places, and 65 000 die each year from illnesses attributable to second-hand smoke.
  • In infants, it raises the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. In pregnant women, it causes pregnancy complications and low birth weight.
  • Smoke-free laws protect the health of non-smokers and are popular, as they do not harm business and they encourage smokers to quit.

Bans on tobacco advertising lower consumption

  • Comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship can reduce tobacco consumption.
  • A comprehensive ban covers both direct and indirect varieties of promotion.

  1. Direct forms include, among others, advertising on television, radio, print publications, billboards and more recently in various social media platforms.


  2. Indirect forms include, among others, brand sharing, brand stretching, free distribution, price discounts, point of sale product displays, sponsorships and promotional activities masquerading as corporate social responsibility programmes.



The scale of the human and economic tragedy that tobacco imposes is shocking, but it’s also preventable. Many organisations encourage their employees to do a ‘Quit Smoking Challenges“. Through support we can accomplish a healthier world.

Sources: (WHO), Department of Health