For nicotine addicts who now can’t buy cigarettes, how bad is withdrawal going to be?

For nicotine addicts who now can’t buy cigarettes, how bad is withdrawal going to be?

Picture: iStock

You will need to ration your vice – if you didn’t buy enough. But Sergeant Kick Butt can perhaps help – and South Africa is supporting healthy choices in a very different time.

Reports have come in from all over South Africa on Friday morning that grocery stores are no longer selling cigarettes after government declared that tobacco products could not be classified as essential goods.

During the 21-day national lockdown that started on Friday, citizens will only be allowed to buy essential goods from a limited number of outlets, while most activities have been shut down completely.

The news that cigarettes were off the menu came as a bombshell shock for the about 7 million people who smoke in the country. It’s estimated that about 27 billion cigarettes go up in smoke in the country each year.

For those who did not stock up enough, they now face the prospect of going cold turkey unexpectedly, and the withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe for smokers with a hard habit.

Big Brother is watching you, you’re no longer watching it

All the way back in 2001 South Africans were obsessed with Big Brother SA. The reality show saw ordinary people stuck in a house for a month. A snapshot from the show was that some of the housemates had to compete for credit to buy items for the house during their lockdown. A few days in, the smokers started to smoke origanum – because their tobacco funds were simply not there. Yes, dried herbs were the answer in 2001 for South Africans on a reality TV show.

The Covid-19 lockdown will possibly see the same kind of dystopia. It’s good news for some – but for smokers, they might need to prepare for the 12-step programme to get through it.

Now that the country is in lockdown, and cigarettes, hookah pipes (hubbly bubblies) and other electronic vaping devices are no longer being sold, many people have the chance to seize the opportunity to stop smoking when their cigarettes and other related products run out.

The benefits of quitting

While smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke do not cause Covid-19, your risk increases if you are a smoker and suffer another health condition such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, respiratory illness or TB.

There are benefits for smokers who are motivated to stop now.

“People who smoke are at increased risk of lung infections in general, but the lungs do heal over time when people stop smoking,” says Savera Kalideen, executive director of the National Council Against Smoking.

There are other health benefits too says Dr. Catherine Egbe from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit of the South African Medical Research Council, because smokers who quit will begin to experience some physiological changes within hours of quitting, and over time their susceptibility to lung infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia also decreases.

But it’s not an easy road. Smoking is an addiction, and it can – and will – be difficult to get through cessation – but it is possible.

People who can help

The National Council against Smoking runs a telephone counselling Quitline on 011 7203145 and can support smokers who want to give up by sending daily messages for 30 days on WhatsApp to motivate you to stay away from cigarettes and manage the symptoms of withdrawal that may come with quitting.

CANSA runs an online programme which also provides support and information for smokers who would like to stop smoking. The programme can be accessed on

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has professional staff that can provide educational support during the challenging time you may face when trying to quit tobacco smoking. During the period of the lockdown you may call 084 250 7374 for assistance.

Symptoms and savings

When you stop smoking, you might experience some withdrawal symptoms such as a dry mouth, coughing, nausea and cravings. Your cravings will go away after a week or two, and the support  tools mentioned above will help you think of ways to overcome your cravings. This is the perfect time to quit. You have the lockdown period to regain your strength, your money and your health.

On average, smokers spend around R35 a day on cigarettes (for a pack of 20). Smokers could save around R250 a week by quitting.

Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, adds that non-smokers generally have better heart and brain health, and consequently are less vulnerable to becoming infected with the coronavirus. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s best interest to change their behaviour positively to give up smoking in order to reduce their risk of cardiovascular diseases, respiratory illnesses and Covid-19 onset.

There is help for smokers who want to stop smoking, and who want to understand more about how they will feel during the time that they transition from smoking to not smoking.

CANSA’s eKick Butt programme is a unique online smoking cessation programme. Through a series of emails, surveys and downloads, they will guide you and mentor you as you quit smoking and non-smoking becomes a lifelong habit, not merely the time interval between two cigarettes. This programme supplies a series of handy tools to help you quit for good.

One of the ways you will be asked to quit is by working with drill sergeant Kick Butt. Yes, you read right. There are a multitude off apps to help with cessation periods for people facing a no-tobacco limitation.

Or just roll some origanum. Joking, don’t. Use that for flavour in a meal. The housemates of the first Big Brother South Africa managed to pull through, so you can too.

Other health considerations in a very confusing time

Discovery Vitality is adjusting its wellness offering to members to encourage healthier choices during the 21-day period.

Dinesh Govender, CEO of Discovery Vitality says: “Vitality is a dynamic behaviour change programme aimed at encouraging people to improve their health. We’ve therefore redesigned our offering to create Vitality at home to ensure we can help members to stay healthy and get rewarded in a manner that is relevant in this difficult period.”

It is important that South Africans stay at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Vitality Active Rewards, for instance, has seen its weekly maximum goal drop to 300 points for all members, instead of 900. To help people achieve their goals, Vitality is introducing an online fitness programme with a daily schedule of high-intensity workouts, yoga, fitness challenges and more. These will also be free to all South Africans and available at home through the Vitality section on Discovery’s website and social media channels from March 30.

Up to four free specialised fitness training sessions will be shared daily, including tutorials from Vitality Ambassadors Caster Semenya, Wayde van Niekerk, Chad le Clos and Lucas Radebe.

Vitality HealthyFood Studio executive chef Dereck Nair will be providing biweekly online masterclasses and guest celebrity chefs’ cooking demos to share inspiration for healthy meals that are easy for families to cook together.

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.

today in print