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      COVID-19 lockdown and the tobacco product ban in South Africa

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          Abstract

          Dear Editor, South Africa (SA) imposed a 21-day lockdown from 26 March to 16 April 2020, through the disaster management Act (57/2002) and amended regulations [Section 27(2)] 1 , to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the country. During the lockdown only essential goods have been allowed on sale 2 . Tobacco and nicotine products were designated as non-essential goods and their sales prohibited. About 22% of South Africans aged ≥15 years use various tobacco products 3 . A systematic review of five Chinese studies published in Tobacco Induced Diseases, found that the odds of a COVID-19 case becoming more severe and leading to death are higher among people with a history of smoking 4 . SA has one of the highest prevalence of tobacco product use in Africa 5 and presently has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the continent, putting the country at risk of being hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic if nothing is done to curb the spread of the virus and protect vulnerable citizens. As of 8 April 2020, SA had conducted 63776 COVID-19 tests, had 1845 confirmed cases and 18 resulting deaths 6 . The COVID-19 pandemic could particularly be problematic for SA given the high prevalence of diabetes, tuberculosis and HIV in the country, compounded by substance use problem even among vulnerable populations 7 . The co-use of substances, especially by persons in vulnerable groups, could increase the risk of developing complications from COVID-19 if infected. Cigarette smoking affects both smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke (SHS) 8 . During the lockdown ban, family members and neighbors in apartment complexes who share the same space with tobacco users will also be protected from exposure to SHS since people are not expected to go outside their building to smoke during the lockdown. Experts have predicted that the South African economy is in for a bumpy ride and may shrink as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic 9 and the associated measures that have been taken to protect citizens during this time. The government has received criticism from some pro-tobacco advocates and academics for the sales ban on tobacco products and alcohol during the lockdown 10 , but this move is heroic and should be viewed as taking a double shot at protecting citizens from COVID-19, given the vulnerability of many South Africans to the disease. There are also concerns about the implications on mental health when people are forced to give up their addictions during the lockdown 10 . It is understandable that tobacco and nicotine product users will be dealing with the mental stress of restricted movements in addition to giving up their addictions, but of more importance is that they become aware that the lockdown ban provides a good opportunity to quit tobacco use. In addition, resources to help tobacco users quit, or assist them to cope with withdrawals, should be made available and accessible. The National Council Against Smoking’s quitline (011 720 3145), online materials (https://www.againstsmoking.co.za/) and the Cancer Association of South Africa’s online quit tobacco program (https://www.ekickbutt.org.za/) are some good resources accessible to tobacco users to help them quit.

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          Cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke: nearly as large as smoking.

          Secondhand smoke increases the risk of coronary heart disease by approximately 30%. This effect is larger than one would expect on the basis of the risks associated with active smoking and the relative doses of tobacco smoke delivered to smokers and nonsmokers. We conducted a literature review of the research describing the mechanistic effects of secondhand smoke on the cardiovascular system, emphasizing research published since 1995, and compared the effects of secondhand smoke with the effects of active smoking. Evidence is rapidly accumulating that the cardiovascular system--platelet and endothelial function, arterial stiffness, atherosclerosis, oxidative stress, inflammation, heart rate variability, energy metabolism, and increased infarct size--is exquisitely sensitive to the toxins in secondhand smoke. The effects of even brief (minutes to hours) passive smoking are often nearly as large (averaging 80% to 90%) as chronic active smoking. The effects of secondhand smoke are substantial and rapid, explaining the relatively large risks that have been reported in epidemiological studies.
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            COVID-19 and smoking: A systematic review of the evidence

            COVID-19 is a coronavirus outbreak that initially appeared in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in December 2019, but it has already evolved into a pandemic spreading rapidly worldwide 1,2 . As of 18 March 2020, a total number of 194909 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, including 7876 deaths, the majority of which have been reported in China (3242) and Italy (2505) 3 . However, as the pandemic is still unfortunately under progression, there are limited data with regard to the clinical characteristics of the patients as well as to their prognostic factors 4 . Smoking, to date, has been assumed to be possibly associated with adverse disease prognosis, as extensive evidence has highlighted the negative impact of tobacco use on lung health and its causal association with a plethora of respiratory diseases 5 . Smoking is also detrimental to the immune system and its responsiveness to infections, making smokers more vulnerable to infectious diseases 6 . Previous studies have shown that smokers are twice more likely than non-smokers to contract influenza and have more severe symptoms, while smokers were also noted to have higher mortality in the previous MERS-CoV outbreak 7,8 . Given the gap in the evidence, we conducted a systematic review of studies on COVID-19 that included information on patients’ smoking status to evaluate the association between smoking and COVID-19 outcomes including the severity of the disease, the need for mechanical ventilation, the need for intensive care unit (ICU) hospitalization and death. The literature search was conducted on 17 March 2020, using two databases (PubMed, ScienceDirect), with the search terms: [‘smoking’ OR ‘tobacco’ OR ‘risk factors’ OR ‘smoker*’] AND [‘COVID-19’ OR ‘COVID 19’ OR ‘novel coronavirus’ OR ‘sars cov-2’ OR ‘sars cov 2’] and included studies published in 2019 and 2020. Further inclusion criteria were that the studies were in English and referred to humans. We also searched the reference lists of the studies included. A total of 71 studies were retrieved through the search, of which 66 were excluded after full-text screening, leaving five studies that were included. All of the studies were conducted in China, four in Wuhan and one across provinces in mainland China. The populations in all studies were patients with COVID-19, and the sample size ranged from 41 to 1099 patients. With regard to the study design, retrospective and prospective methods were used, and the timeframe of all five studies covered the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic (December 2019, January 2020). Specifically, Zhou et al. 9 studied the epidemiological characteristics of 191 individuals infected with COVID-19, without, however, reporting in more detail the mortality risk factors and the clinical outcomes of the disease. Among the 191 patients, there were 54 deaths, while 137 survived. Among those that died, 9% were current smokers compared to 4% among those that survived, with no statistically significant difference between the smoking rates of survivors and non-survivors (p=0.21) with regard to mortality from COVID-19. Similarly, Zhang et al. 10 presented clinical characteristics of 140 patients with COVID-19. The results showed that among severe patients (n=58), 3.4% were current smokers and 6.9% were former smokers, in contrast to non-severe patients (n=82) among which 0% were current smokers and 3.7% were former smokers , leading to an OR of 2.23; (95% CI: 0.65–7.63; p=0.2). Huang et al. 11 studied the epidemiological characteristics of COVID-19 among 41 patients. In this study, none of those who needed to be admitted to an ICU (n=13) was a current smoker. In contrast, three patients from the non-ICU group were current smokers, with no statistically significant difference between the two groups of patients (p=0.31), albeit the small sample size of the study. The largest study population of 1099 patients with COVID-19 was provided by Guan et al. 12 from multiple regions of mainland China. Descriptive results on the smoking status of patients were provided for the 1099 patients, of which 173 had severe symptoms, and 926 had non-severe symptoms. Among the patients with severe symptoms, 16.9% were current smokers and 5.2% were former smokers, in contrast to patients with non-severe symptoms where 11.8% were current smokers and 1.3% were former smokers. Additionally, in the group of patients that either needed mechanical ventilation, admission to an ICU or died, 25.5% were current smokers and 7.6% were former smokers. In contrast, in the group of patients that did not have these adverse outcomes, only 11.8% were current smokers and 1.6% were former smokers. No statistical analysis for evaluating the association between the severity of the disease outcome and smoking status was conducted in that study. Finally, Liu et al. 13 found among their population of 78 patients with COVID-19 that the adverse outcome group had a significantly higher proportion of patients with a history of smoking (27.3%) than the group that showed improvement or stabilization (3.0%), with this difference statistically significant at the p=0.018 level. In their multivariate logistic regression analysis, the history of smoking was a risk factor of disease progression (OR=14.28; 95% CI: 1.58–25.00; p= 0.018). We identified five studies that reported data on the smoking status of patients infected with COVID-19. Notably, in the largest study that assessed severity, there were higher percentages of current and former smokers among patients that needed ICU support, mechanical ventilation or who had died, and a higher percentage of smokers among the severe cases 12 . However, from their published data we can calculate that the smokers were 1.4 times more likely (RR=1.4, 95% CI: 0.98–2.00) to have severe symptoms of COVID-19 and approximately 2.4 times more likely to be admitted to an ICU, need mechanical ventilation or die compared to non-smokers (RR=2.4, 95% CI: 1.43–4.04). In conclusion, although further research is warranted as the weight of the evidence increases, with the limited available data, and although the above results are unadjusted for other factors that may impact disease progression, smoking is most likely associated with the negative progression and adverse outcomes of COVID-19. Table 1 Overview of the five studies included in the systematic review Title Setting Population Study design and time horizon Outcomes Smoking rates by outcome Zhou et al. 9 (2020)Clinical course and risk factors for mortality of adult inpatients with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China: a retrospective cohort study Jinyintan Hospital and Wuhan Pulmonary Hospital, Wuhan, China All adult inpatients (aged ≥18 years) with laboratory confirmed COVID-19 (191 patients) Retrospective multicenter cohort study until 31 January 2020 Mortality 54 patients died during hospitalisation and 137 were discharged Current smokers: n=11 (6%)Non-survivors: n=5 (9%)Survivors: n=6 (4%)(p=0.20) Current smoker vs non-smokerUnivariate logistic regression(OR=2.23; 95% CI: 0.65–7.63; p=0.2) Zhang et al. 10 (2020)Clinical characteristics of 140 patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan, China No. 7 Hospital of Wuhan, China All hospitalised patients clinically diagnosed as ‘viral pneumonia’ based on their clinical symptoms with typical changes in chest radiology (140 patients) Retrospective 16 January to 3 February 2020 Disease Severity Non-severepatients: n=82Severe patients:n=58 Disease Severity Former smokers: n=7Severe: n=4 (6.9%)Non-severe: n=3 (3.7%) (p= 0.448) Current smokers: n=2Severe: n=2 (3.4%)Non-severe: n=0 (0%) Guan et al. 12 (2019)Clinical Characteristics of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in China 552 hospitals in 30 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities in mainland China Patients with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 (1099 patients) Retrospective until 29 January 2020 Severity and admission to an ICU, the use of mechanical ventilation, or death Non-severe patients: n=926 Severe patients: n=173 By severity Severe cases16.9% current smokers5.2% former smokers77.9% never smokers Non-severe cases11.8% current smokers1.3% former smokers86.9% never smokers By mechanical ventilation, ICU or death Needed mechanical ventilation, ICU or died25.8% current smokers7.6% former smokers66.7% non-smokers No mechanical ventilation, ICU or death11.8% current smokers1.6% former smokers86.7% never smokers Huang et al. 11 (2020)Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China A hospital in Wuhan, China Laboratory-confirmed 2019-nCoV patients in Wuhan (41 patients) Prospective from 16 December 2019 to 2 January 2020 Mortality As of 22 January 2020, 28 (68%) of 41 patients were discharged and 6 (15%) patients died Current smokers: n=3ICU care: n=0Non-ICU care: n=3 (11%) Current smokers in ICU care vs non-ICU care patients (p=0.31) Liu et al. 13 (2019)Analysis of factors associated with disease outcomes in hospitalised patients with 2019 novel coronavirus disease Three tertiary hospitals in Wuhan, China Patients tested positive for COVID-19 (78 patients) Retrospective multicentre cohort study from 30 December 2019 to 15 January 2020 Disease progression 11 patients (14.1%) in the progression group 67 patients (85.9%) in the improvement/stabilization group 2 deaths Negative progression group: 27.3% smokersIn the improvement group: 3% smokers The negative progression group had a significantly higher proportion of patients with a history of smoking than the improvement/stabilisation group (27.3% vs 3.0%)Multivariate logistic regression analysis indicated that the history of smoking was a risk factor of disease progression (OR=14.28; 95% CI: 1.58–25.00; p= 0.018)
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              A Systematic Review of Tobacco Smoking Prevalence and Description of Tobacco Control Strategies in Sub-Saharan African Countries; 2007 to 2014

              Objective To systematically review current smoking prevalence among adults in sub-Saharan Africa from 2007 to May 2014 and to describe the context of tobacco control strategies in these countries. Data Sources Five databases, Medline, Embase, Africa-wide Information, Cinahl Plus, and Global Health were searched using a systematic search strategy. There were no language restrictions. Study Selection 26 included studies measured current smoking prevalence in nationally representative adult populations in sub-Saharan African countries. Data Extraction Study details were independently extracted using a standard datasheet. Data on tobacco control policies, taxation and trends in prices were obtained from the Implementation Database of the WHO FCTC website. Results Studies represented 13 countries. Current smoking prevalence varied widely ranging from 1.8% in Zambia to 25.8% in Sierra Leone. The prevalence of smoking was consistently lower in women compared to men with the widest gender difference observed in Malawi (men 25.9%, women 2.9%). Rwanda had the highest prevalence of women smokers (12.6%) and Ghana had the lowest (0.2%). Rural, urban patterns were inconsistent. Most countries have implemented demand-reduction measures including bans on advertising, and taxation rates but to different extents. Conclusion Smoking prevalence varied widely across sub-Saharan Africa, even between similar country regions, but was always higher in men. High smoking rates were observed among countries in the eastern and southern regions of Africa, mainly among men in Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda, and Zambia and women in Rwanda and rural Zambia. Effective action to reduce smoking across sub-Saharan Africa, particularly targeting population groups at increased risk remains a pressing public health priority.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Tob Induc Dis
                Tob Induc Dis
                TID
                Tobacco Induced Diseases
                European Publishing on behalf of the International Society for the Prevention of Tobacco Induced Diseases (ISPTID)
                2070-7266
                1617-9625
                06 May 2020
                2020
                : 18
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Pretoria, South Africa
                [2 ]Department of Public Health, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, Pretoria, South Africa
                Author notes
                CORRESPONDENCE TO Catherine O. Egbe. Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, No. 1 Soutpansberg Road, Pretoria 0001, South Africa. E-mail: catherine.egbe@ 123456mrc.ac.za
                Article
                39
                10.18332/tid/120938
                7206509
                © 2020 Egbe C.O. and Ngobese S.P.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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