Monique* started smoking three years ago as a 16-year-old schoolgirl because her cousin smoked, and she now spends around R200 a week on cigarettes.

“I am trying to stop. I want to. I spend a lot of money on cigarettes but I have to smoke. I crave it,” said Monique, whose parents are also smokers.

Amina* and Wanita*, having their last drags before class, also started smoking at school.

“Everyone at Lavender Hill High smokes,” laughed Amina. “We smoked on the school grounds and we never got caught because everyone smells of smoke.

“For us youth, we smoke for the stress,” added Wanita. “Your parents have been skelling all night. You get into the taxi to school in the morning and you light a cigarette. Your friends all smoke. There is peer pressure.”

Africa target for tobacco companies

Africa has been identified as a growth market for tobacco companies as anti-tobacco measures in wealthier countries are resulting in declining cigarette sales, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Tedros was opening the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Cape Town yesterday.

The rate of smoking amongst coloured women is one of the highest in the world – around 38 percent. In contrast, around 15 percent of white women and three percent of African and Indian women smoke, according to the SA Demographics and Health Study released last year.

Overall, nearly eight million South Africans smoke, and the Western Cape has the highest rate, where 42 percent of men and one in four women smoke. In contrast, only one percent of women in Limpopo smoke.

Welcoming delegates to the conference, Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille said the city was trying to educate people about the dangers of smoking at schools and shopping centres.

Meanwhile, the conference heard that a ban on the open display of tobacco products in the United Kingdom, phased in between 2012 and 2015, has been effective in deterring young people from smoking.

Cigarettes have to be sold behind shutters and research on 3800 young people aged 11 to 16 found that, for the vast majority – 83 percent – this made them feel that it was not OK to smoke, according to researcher Allison Ford from Scotland’s University of Stirling.

“No one loves smoking. They smoke because they are addicted. We need to conduct research to find out how to help them, so that our children only ever see cigarettes in museums and wonder what they are,” said Health Minister Motsoaledi at the conference. – Health-e.

An edited version of this story was first published on IOL

* Not their real names