Amid a controversial ban on the sale of tobacco products, South Africa commemorates Anti-Tobacco Month which culminates in World No-Tobacco Day on May 31.

A global annual campaign headed up by The World Health Organization (WHO), World No-Tobacco Day focuses on the dangers of tobacco use and aims to debunk myths and expose tobacco related industry tactics.

Work conducted by 2016 researchers at The University of Cape Town’s School of Economics estimated that in 2016, 20 249 deaths among persons aged 35-74 in South Africa were smoking-attributed. Smoking-related diseases translated to a direct healthcare cost of R11.4-billion and were responsible for 3.24 percent of the total healthcare expenditure during that same year.

From a healthcare provider point of view, this cost is significant. Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer 10 to 20-fold and is a causative factor for leukaemia, cancers of the mouth, nose, throat, oesophagus, pancreas, liver, stomach, cervix, kidney, large bowel, and bladder.

Dr David Eedes, clinical oncology advisor of Icon Oncology says when considering the true cost of tobacco-related cancer treatment to the healthcare system in South Africa.

“All cancers have a financial implication. Emotional, physical and societal costs aside, all cancer is expensive. In the private sector, any active treatment for a lung cancer would cost in the hundreds of thousands, with some of the latest treatments for lung cancer being over R1-million per year.

“Cancer treatment requires large teams of people and infrastructure. Apart from cancer specialists, surgeons, pathologists and radiologists, numerous associated medical personnel are involved in the treatment of cancer patients. Equipment and medications are almost all imported and with the current economic challenges, this places a significant burden on our healthcare industry,” said Eedes.

WHO’s latest statement on tobacco use and Covid-19 reports that the use of tobacco kills more than 8 million people globally each year. More than 7 million of these deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while 1.2 million deaths are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

When looking at these statistics through the lens of a non-communicable disease such as cancer, the use of tobacco is an important risk factor and contributor. Tobacco use accounts for 21 percent of total worldwide cancer deaths, making it the most preventable cause of cancer.

Dr Eedes explains why Icon Oncology supports the cessation of tobacco and nicotine products as a key cancer preventative measure. According to the SA National Cancer Registry of 2014, well over 5 000 new patients are diagnosed with tobacco related cancers each year which include cancer of the lungs, oesophagus, mouth and throat. All of these cancers have high mortality rates as they are aggressive and difficult to treat.”

It is well documented that the cessation of tobacco is no mean feat, due to the presence of nicotine which is highly addictive. GoSmokeFree is an evidence-based programme that provides full support to smokers who are trying to quit. The initiative reports that over 70 percent of smokers would like to give up tobacco use.

“Tobacco is the only legally produced consumer product which when used exactly as intended, kills half its users. Stopping smoking is the single most important thing you can do for your health”, says Scott Hogarth, spokesperson for GoSmokeFree.

The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) has a unique online smoking cessation programme called eKick Butt which is simple and free to use. Through a series of emails, surveys, and downloads, CANSA provides mentorship to help smokers quit for good.

When embarking on a tobacco cessation journey, it is important to seek professional assistance to ensure long-lasting success. CANSA had the following tips to share:

  • Quit date: Set a date at least a week in advance to get ready.
  • Get support: Tell your friends, family & colleagues.
  • Get rid of smoking reminders such as cigarette packets, ashtrays & lighters.
  • Plan your survival kit: what can you substitute for your cigarettes?
  • Drink lots of water, this will aid in flushing the nicotine from your system.
  • Get active and include exercise such as walking into your daily routine.
  • Start saving your cigarette money and buy yourself a treat once you reach a cessation milestone.


To listen to Dr Eedes’ interview on 5FM: