South Africa

Cardiologist questions government ban aimed at smokers

Cardiologist questions government ban aimed at smokers

There is no evidence that smoking would increase the transmission of the coronavirus, a cardiologist and antismoking researcher said on Thursday.

Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos told radio 702 in an interview that he did not understand why SA had taken the decision to ban the sale of cigarettes.

He said the reason most other countries had not done this in response to the pandemic was very simple.

“There is zero evidence that smoking will propagate or is in some way increasing the transmission of coronavirus. In fact, banning smoking in a pandemic can have very adverse effects.”

Co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in an affidavit submitted to the high court in Pretoria on Wednesday, said that banning the sale of tobacco products during the lockdown was aimed at protecting human life, health and reducing the potential strain on the health-care system.

Dlamini-Zuma was giving reasons for the decision in response to a challenge by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita).

Farsalinos said that clinical observations, reported in published studies, indicated that nicotine — not the act of smoking tobacco — “may have some protective role to play in Covid-19". Research had indicated that nicotine had anti-inflammatory properties.

The ban has had some adverse consequences, such as illicit tobacco sales. “Banning smoking is not a way for people to quit, it’s a way to create an explosion of the black market,” he said.

Farsalinos said quitting smoking would not necessarily be beneficial to a person who soon afterwards became infected with Covid-19.

“They are in reality smokers. It takes years for quitters to reverse the damage.”

Fita wants the court to set aside the government's decision to temporarily ban the sale of tobacco products.

Dlamini-Zuma said in her responding court papers that the ban would see a “sizeable number of South Africans” quit smoking once the lockdown ended, with the “poor and youth ... particularly likely to quit”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that cigarettes would remain banned under level 3 of the lockdown, starting on June 1.