South Africans are constantly exposed to rising prices and the uneasy accessibility of certain products, and for smokers, low-priced tobacco products are becoming increasingly popular. Tobacco and smoking are generally not good for your health, but cheap cigarettes are even worse and can result in various health consequences.
According to a tweet by Tax Justice South Africa, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) is losing more than R20 billion annually from illicit cigarette sales alone.
Siyabonga Mathebula from Durban tells us he smokes about three to five cheap cigarettes per day. He says he prefers them because they are affordable and provide stronger satisfaction for him, with one of the most widely available brands in South Africa, Rudland & George, also known as RG, being one of his favourites.
“The high prices of cigarettes led me to start going for the cheaper ones. Even when I do have money to afford expensive cigarettes, I still choose the cheaper ones because the more expensive ones have become too weak for me,” Mathebula says.
Cheap cigarettes are commonly known to be found in townships, in spaza shops, or from street vendors. Mathebula points out that he has realised that these outlets introduce new cheap cigarettes very often.
No shortage of new cigarettes
“At the shops, they introduce us to new cigarettes almost every six months. They always have new stock which they try to test on us if the cigarettes we are used to are unavailable.
Can’t stop the cravings
Although Mandla Mhlanga from Benoni prefers expensive cigarettes, he says smoking cheap cigarettes has resulted in more cravings to smoke.
“Covid-19 was an introduction to cheap cigarettes for most of us. Afterwards, it was harder for us to smoke conventional cigarettes again because of the price and realising that they are actually stronger. I however believe the effects on my health are the same no matter which one I smoke,” he says.
According to Newcastle-based medical practitioner Dr Mhlengi Mhlongo, cheaper cigarettes are as harmful as expensive ones because they are all mixed with a variety of harmful chemicals with the primary purpose of including the prevalent addictive drug in cigarettes, nicotine.
Where there’s smoke…
“Inhaling any cigarette smoke can cause damage to the lungs and other organs, and increases the risk of several serious health conditions, such as strokes and heart diseases.
“The smoke from low-quality or cheaper cigarettes can contain even higher levels of harmful chemicals, including tar, carbon monoxide, and other toxins. However, both are equally dangerous and pose the same threats to one’s health,” he says.
A vicious circle
Mhlongo furthermore highlights that smoking cheap cigarettes may contribute to increasing the risk of addiction and are deemed more harmful as they are often more affordable and accessible than other types of cigarettes, causing one to smoke more. He also advises that quitting smoking is the best way to reduce many risks and improve one’s overall health.
In South Africa, 16.8% of adults (age 15+) smoke cigarettes, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids. Among the youth aged 13 to 15, 21.5% use tobacco products as smoking is usually established and started during the adolescent years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a multitude of dangers smoking has on your health: “Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking also increases the risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis.”
Want to stop smoking?
Smoking is an addiction, but there are ways you can kick the habit.
Despite the challenges of experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating, there are several strategies available to stop smoking and it is never too late with the right support and resources. Some are:
- Quitting gradually by decreasing the number of cigarettes smoked daily is an effective start to stop smoking.
- Attending support groups to share experiences and build a support system.
- Lifestyle changes; if you are a person who smokes after eating, find something else to do like taking a walk instead of smoking after meals.
- Identify triggers and find new strategies to deal with them.
- Constantly remind yourself of the benefits of reduced risk of lung and heart disease, and improved overall health.
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