The executive committee of the South African Thoracic Society (SATS) has thrown its weight behind the government’s ban on the sale of tobacco products during the Covid-19 lockdown.
In a statement published on its website on 6 May, the society expressed its support for the government’s efforts to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Referring primarily on the tobacco sales ban, it noted that there was no evidence of any potential benefit from cigarette smoking.
“The SA Thoracic Society has championed the campaign to stop cigarette smoking because of its negative impact on health,” the statement read.
“We are proud to note that South Africa was among the first countries in the world to ban cigarette smoking in public places.”
SATS said smoking remained the leading cause of lung cancer and chronic obstructive lung disease and noted the particular negative impact it has on tuberculosis, pneumonia, and influenza.
“In this context, it supports the view that smoking impacts negatively on the control of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Multi-national studies show that Covid-19 outcomes are worse in smokers and they are likely more susceptible because smoking upregulates the cellular attachment sites of SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of Covid-19.”
SATS added that smoking also impacted negatively on social distancing measures, which are the most effective intervention to stem the spread of the virus, and that a reduction in smoking during the lockdown may also reduce second-hand cigarette smoke exposure.
“In this respect, the South African Thoracic Society supports the SA government’s position on the ban on the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products during the lockdown period,” the society said.
“The benefits of this intervention outweigh any negative impact.”
The statement was signed by renowned pulmonologists Professor Umesh Lalloo and Professor Richard van Zyl-Smit, who is the SATS vice-president.
The ban on the sale of tobacco products, which includes cigarettes and vaping products, was instituted at the start of the lockdown on 26 March.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, without citing reasons, then announced on 23 April that the ban would be lifted as the country moved into Level 4 of the lockdown.
Days later, the government made a U-turn when Minister of Cogta Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma announced that the ban would remain in place.
Dlamini-Zuma noted concerns that some people shared cigarettes, which could spread the novel coronavirus.
The government has since agreed to provide reasons for the ban under Level 4 of the lockdown, following a court challenge by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association.