76dccfca4ef8.jpgSmoking is generally associated with lung cancer and is also the single greatest cause of heart disease. Yet, millions of South Africans continue to ignore anti-smoking messages. I spoke to a group of young smokers to find out about their smoking habits.    Twenty-six year-old Bongani Zulu is one of them.

‘€œI smoke about 12 – 16 cigarettes a day. If it’€™s a stressful day at work, then, obviously it would be about 20 – 30 cigarettes a day’€, says Bongani Zulu.

Solly Mthembu also shared his smoking habits.

‘€œToday, I have not even had one. But I smoke two or three’€¦ maximum, three’€, he says.

Unlike Bongani and Solly, Siviwe Gabela does not consider himself a smoker. He says he takes a few puffs when he is with his smoking friends.  

‘€œI  wouldn’t  call myself a smoker. I only smoke when I’€™m having drinks with friends over the weekend. I don’€™t remember ever taking my own money and use it to buy a cigarette. I just grab it from friends over weekends’€, says Siviwe Gabela.  

Like many young people,    all the three respondents started smoking as a ‘€œfun’€ experiment.  

‘€œAt first, I was just playing… stealing my father’€™s cigarettes and it got to a point when I started enjoying it’€, says Solly Mthembu.

‘€œI  started smoking when I first went clubbing’€¦ you know, being in college and being exposed to club life and everything’€, added Bongani Zulu.

‘€œI started way back when I was in the mountain. I’€™d get bored and I’€™d smoke just to kill time’€, says Siviwe Gabela.

Asked if they knew about the dangers of smoking, these respondents think they are immune to smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer.

‘€œI know all about the dangers of smoking, but I have never considered myself at risk or I’€™ll get them’€, says Solly Mthembu.

‘€œI hear of the health risks caused by smoking, but I feel they don’€™t affect me because I only smoke on weekends when I’€™m having drinks’€, says Siviwe Gabela.

Dr Yusuf Saloojee, the Executive Director of the National Council Against Smoking, warns that it can take a few smokes before one can get addicted.

‘€œNicotine, which is found in all tobacco products, is an extremely addictive product.    Once people use nicotine, they become dependent on it.    So if they don’€™t get their fix of nicotine, they begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. People become irritable. They become tense, stressed… and when this irritation builds up, the only way they know how to release it, is to smoke a cigarette’€, he says.

Dr. Saloojee says the effects of smoking are unhealthy.

‘€œTobacco causes over 43 different diseases, cancer (which almost everyone knows about), heart attacks, and it can damage your lungs. So, you get various lung diseases which leave you unable to breathe.    And it can also harm the unborn child if a mother smokes’€, says Dr. Saloojee.

He says there are over 4000 different chemicals in tobacco smoke and 200 of those are known poisons.

‘€œThings like arsenic, cyanide’€¦ Arsenic is used to kill rats and cyanide is the poison they use to kill people in prison in America when they execute them. There are all kinds of different poisons and 50 different chemicals that can cause cancer, which is why it’€™s not surprising that smoking does not cause only one type of cancer. It can also cause lung cancer (which many people know about), but it can also cause cancer of the bladder, cancer of the larynx  (your voice box), cancer of the throat, cancer of the kidneys’€, says Dr. Saloojee.  

Second-hand smokers are also in danger.

‘€œWhen a cigarette burns in the ash-tray, it releases all the poisons into the air that non-smokers have to breathe. And even breathing small amounts of cancer-causing chemicals can cause harm to non-smokers. So, a non-smoker who lives or works with a smoker has an increased risk of heart-attacks and lung cancer. And if you smoke anywhere near children, especially children under the age of five, their lungs won’€™t grow properly and it will affect them. Children are much more likely to be hospitalised with bronchitis and pneumonia’€, concludes Dr. Saloojee.