In South Africa, smoking is responsible for 121 deaths a day. But even if you don’t smoke, second-hand smoke could kill you…

You know the facts – smoking is bad news for your health – but did you know that, even if you don’t smoke, being around people who smoke could be deadly?

As a woman, you are even more vulnerable to second-hand smoke.

Twice as many women in the world die of exposure to second-hand smoke as men do. In fact, an estimated 600 000 women died from second-hand smoke-related deaths in 2016.

This is according to a media briefing from the National Council Against Smoking, the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa and the Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town ahead of World No Tobacco Day – 31 May 2018.

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Twice as many women in the world die of exposure to second-hand smoke as men do.

Tobacco breaks hearts

This year, the theme for World No Tobacco Day is Tobacco breaks hearts and focuses on the ill-effects of tobacco use, including smoking, on heart health.

“Smoking triples the risk of having a heart attack and doubles the risk of having a stroke,” says Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA).

Globally, one in eight deaths is tobacco-related. In South Africa, the prevalence of smoking is 16,5%, with 44 000 smoking-related deaths each year. That is equivalent to 121 deaths each day.

“Even people who smoke fewer than five cigarettes a day may show signs of early cardiovascular disease (CVD), with the risk of heart disease increasing with number of cigarettes smoked per day and duration of smoking. Exposure to second-hand smoke also causes CVD in non-smokers,” adds Professor Ntusi, Chair of the Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town (UCT).

“On a positive note, the excess risk of CVD is rapidly reversible, and stopping smoking following a heart attack reduces an individual’s risk of heart disease by 36% in two years,” says Prof Ntusi.

Related: 5 Tips to help you quit smoking

Women and children at risk

More men smoke worldwide, but many women get exposed to smoke from their partners.

A recent study in the Western Cape found that over a third of women in a local township were exposed to passive smoking, putting them at a high risk of CVD and other complications.

In the Drakenstein Child Health Study, one in five babies surveyed in two townships had the same level of nicotine in their system as active smokers.  Many infants face the consequences of high smoking rates among pregnant women, including being underweight and developing lung problems such as asthma.

Savera Kalideen, Executive Director of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS) says, “The nicotine in cigarette smoke results in an increase in blood clotting, blood pressure and heart rate. It also results in a decrease in oxygen reaching the heart.”

SA proposed changes to anti-tobacco legislation

Kalideen says that the Department of Health has proposed significant and welcome changes to the existing tobacco legislation, which aims to reduce consumption of tobacco products and protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke.

These changes include the proposal to make all public places, including stadiums, beaches and parks smoke-free.

E-cigarettes will be legislated in exactly the same way as combustible cigarettes and all cigarette packaging will be uniform in colour and font used on the packets (plain packaging).

Related: Higher levels of formaldehyde in e-cigarettes than previously thought

Professor Pamela Naidoo urges South Africans, whether at an individual or organisation level, to help facilitate government’s commitment to harm reduction through tobacco control policies and make an effort to keep themselves and their environment smoke-free.

Sources: National Council Against Smoking, the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa and the Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.