Every year on 31 May, the World Health Organisation observes World No Tobacco Day, with the aim of raising awareness of the harmful effects of tobacco use.

Just as it is important to campaign against the regular use of tobacco on a global scale, it’s essential to understand its impact at home in South Africa.

According to a 2016 Health and Demographic report by Statistic South Africa, 37% of men aged 15 years and older smoke cigarettes whereas only 7% of women aged 15 years and older smoke cigarettes.

In total, it is estimated that roughly 7 million people aged 15 years and older are active smokers in South Africa.

These numbers are extremely important to know, whether as a smoker or not, simply because of the disastrously harmful effects that smoking has on one’s health.

According to Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, smoking is the second leading cause of cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease, after high blood pressure. Smoking also leads to numerous forms of cancer including oral, lung, stomach and liver cancer. In addition, smoking shaves off years of one’s life. The Foundation states that what many refer to as merely a ‘bad habit’ can cause one to die 13 to 14 years earlier than non-smokers.

The health benefits of not smoking are therefore clear – a clean bill of health, and the ability to live for as long as possible.

In a mere 20 minutes after smoking, according to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), one’s blood pressure and pulse rate drops, and body temperature returns to normal. Between two weeks and three months after one stops smoking, blood circulation and lung functionality improve. After a full year of not smoking, the risk of coronary heart disease decreases by half.

Despite laws and regulations such as South Africa’s Tobacco Control Bill of 2018, smoking continues to be very much a part of everyday life. This is why smokers and non-smokers need to be aware of smoking’s severe health implications and the benefits of not smoking at all.

Nevertheless, organisations such as CANSA and the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa provide formidable support and counselling for those who want to quit smoking.

In 2018, at the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health held in Cape Town, the Tobacco Atlas was released with the aim of highlighting the harm that the tobacco industry has done across the globe. This is not only in terms of health but also in terms of the environment and socio-economic development.

Environmentally, the Atlas also highlights the fact that 9296 tonnes of cigarette butts and packs wind up as toxic trash in South Africa each year, which is roughly equivalent to the weight of 1859 endangered African elephants. Even by cutting down on smoking cigarettes every day, you contribute towards saving the planet and decreasing your individual carbon footprint.

The first step towards cutting down or quitting smoking is to therefore be aware of its impact on a holistic level, and the positive impact that can have on taking one more drag for good.

If you decide to cut down or quit completely, it’s important to speak to an authorised health advisor to assist you on what steps to take towards your journey into wellness.

One of ASI’s healthcare advisory solutions includes providing wellness management programmes for both employers and employees. This is in line with our aim to maximise intrinsic value across the suite of services and products offered.

Self-care is to breathe in only clean air.