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Quit smoking and minimise health and financial implications in 2021

By: Pfizer South Africa

While smoking has long been part of cultural and societal practices, the World Health Organisation attributes as many as 8 million deaths as tobacco-related, with 7 million as a direct result of tobacco use and 1.2 million to secondhand smoke1.  Bearing in mind South Africa’s dire economic situation2, with an estimated 3 million people losing their jobs as a result of restrictions to curb the COVID-19 pandemic3, the health and financial benefits4 should encourage South Africans to stop smoking.

Prof Richard van Zyl-Smit, Pulmonologist and Head of the Lung Clinical Research Unit (LCRU) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) Lung Institute, says research conducted by the US-based National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) on the hazards of smoking and the benefits of cessation acknowledges that smokers who start smoking early in adult life and do not quit, lose a decade of life expectancy versus non-smokers5.

“Chronic, noncommunicable diseases (NCD) are on the rise6, with tobacco consumption being one of the important contributing risk factors for dying of an NCD7. Quitting will help protect not only personal health, but those around you from exposure to secondhand smoke8. Smoking cessation, especially before the age of 40, results in a reduced risk in mortality5,” he says.

The World Health Organisation suggests that quitting allows the lungs and heart to function better from the moment a user stops. Within 20 minutes, the elevated heart rate and blood pressure associated with smoking immediately drops, and after 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in the bloodstream returns to normal. Within two to twelve weeks, circulation improves and lung function increases, and after one to nine months, coughing and shortness of breath decreases9.

“In addition to an improved quality of life and the ability to breathe, you can also taste and smell better10. When you quit smoking, your immune system will become stronger which will reduce the amount you get sick11,” explains van Zyl-Smit.

It’s not just personal health that is affected, but the economic growth and stability of South Africa as local smokers cost the government money. This is backed up by research conducted by Dr Hana Ross and colleagues at University of Cape Town suggests that South African smokers cost the government in excess of R42 billion. This is largely attributed to increased healthcare costs, productive lives lost, and productive days lost through illness12.

On a consumer level, many South Africans face a massive challenge with debt. The Debt Counselling Association estimates that in 2020 as many as 10-million South Africans had bad debt, with an average of 63% spending their after-tax income on repayments13 – a number which has certainly increased as of late with banks reporting a surge in provisions for bad debt14.

Taking into account that the average pack of cigarettes costs around R4015, if one indulges in a pack of 20 cigarettes per day, the habit amounts to over R1200 per month and over R14 400 per year. One could argue that given the current economic standpoint of many South Africans as a result of COVID-19, this additional expenditure could be put to better use4, such as for food, housing, or to invest in education and improve household financial situations.

While quitting smoking tobacco can be difficult16, with the right mindset17, a commitment to quit18, and the right medical intervention, it can be done. However, oftentimes people benefit from different types of support whilst withdrawing from nicotine, such as counseling and medication19.

“It is important to note that withdrawal symptoms may be severe – but “won’t kill you” as some might think20, withdrawal from nicotine can make it difficult to quit, but it is important to note that the symptoms usually dissipate within two to four weeks21. Support from friends and family will help during those difficult days22. Along with this, people believe that stopping smoking will cause them to put on weight, however, smoking has actually been shown to negatively affect one’s metabolism23. With these points in mind it is important to note that quitting is possible24 and the benefits outweigh the negative impact of smoking25,” concludes van Zyl-Smit.

While there are different ways to quit smoking such as stopping abruptly26, there are cessation methods that have helped many people kick the habit27. Should you be looking to quit, speak to your healthcare professional about the solutions most appropriate for you. For more information, kindly visit


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3. Bloomberg. Business Maverick: In South Africa, Even Skilled Workers Seek Jobs on the Street [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:

4. Devon Card-Crue Invest (Pty) Ltd. Stopped smoking? Here’s what you can save [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:

5. Jha P. The hazards of smoking and the benefits of cessation: A critical summation of the epidemiological evidence in high-income countries. Elife [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 15];9. Available from:

6. Chronic, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) news, resources and funding for global health researchers [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:,Chronic%2C%20noncommunicable%20diseases%20(NCDs)%20news%2C%20resources%20and%20funding,percent%20of%20deaths%20occurring%20there.

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13. Staff Writer. The massive debt problem facing middle class South Africans in 2020 [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:

14. SA banks are reporting a bad-debt bloodbath – but it may look worse than it really is [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:

15. Cigarettes are more expensive than before the lockdown ban – and it is about to get worse [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:

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17. Sridharan V, Shoda Y, Heffner JL, Bricker J. Addiction Mindsets and Psychological Processes of Quitting Smoking. Subst Use Misuse. 2019 Mar 20;54(7):1086–95.

18. CDCTobaccoFree. Take Steps to Quit [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:

19. Kandola A. Nicotine withdrawal: Symptoms, timeline, and how to cope [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:

20. Michigan Smokers Quit Kit [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:

21. Darla Burke AG. Nicotine Withdrawal: Symptoms, Treatments, and Complications [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:

22. How to Support Your Quitter [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:

23. Smoking and Physical Activity [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:

24. 25 Effects of Smoking on Your Looks and Life [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:

25. Martin T. Being Honest About Why You Smoke [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:

26. Armand W. What’s the best way to quit smoking? [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:

27. Robinson L. How to Quit Smoking – [cited 2021 Feb 15]; Available from:

28. The Journey [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from:

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