More than 400,000 people have signed an online a petition against the ban on the sale of cigarettes.
Government announced this week that a ban on the sale of tobacco products and cigarettes would continue under the Level 4 lockdown. It was also banned under Level 5.
Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that cigarettes would be on sale from 1 May, but Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said this week that the ban would remain in place, citing health concerns.
“We, the persecuted fellow smokers, are we being played?”
These are the first few lines of the online petition that thousands of people, mostly smokers, have signed.
The petition, started by Bev McClean, highlighted the government’s U-turn on cigarette sales which had left many smokers fuming.
McClean said that since the announcement this week, there had been an increase of signatures, the most she’d seen in days.
“I hope our voices are heard. It’s unfair and it doesn’t make any sense.”
In Cape Town, some smokers criticised government’s decision, pointing out that illicit cigarettes were flooding the market with increased prices.
Here’s what some had to say: “I’m very angry. Smoking relaxes me when I’m stressed, especially in times like these,” one woman said.
“So 2,000 people have authority over how many millions of smokers? We’re supposed to be in lockdown in our homes, so if we’re using our own cigarettes and not sharing with the general public, it should be fine,” a Cape Town man commented.
“It’s unnecessary due to the fact that for a smoker, cigarettes are essential,” another man said.
The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association said that it would be proceeding with legal action regarding the government’s decision, and Mclean said that this petition would help strengthen their case.
Meanwhile, a pulmonary specialist said that quitting cigarettes now would definitely increase a smoker’s chances at fighting off a COVID-19 infection.
Does smoking make the country’s estimated 11 million smokers more vulnerable to COVID-19?
Pulmonologist and critical care specialist, Professor Keertan Dheda, explained that kicking the habit would definitely make a difference.
“There are various different components of lung immunity – there’s the protective mucus layer in the lungs, there are the cilia or tiny hairs that get rid of particulate matter and depending on the type of immune cell and which part of the lung defence system you’re looking at, many of these lung defence mechanisms start within days of quitting.”
Dheda pointed out that smoking also increased the expression of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 receptors, which act like “docking stations” for the coronavirus and allow it entry into cells in the respiratory tract.
“Studies have now shown that smoking actually upregulates this receptor and through that mechanism, maybe increasing risk to smokers.”
Dheda said that preliminary data showed that smokers appeared to be at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and were likely to have worse clinical outcomes if they were infected.