Dear People of South Africa

May 20, 2020 | Insights

Let me tell you a story. It is about a woman of 75 years who lives in Cape Town.  She has been living alone since her husband passed away in 2011.  She is far from her two children, both of whom live in Johannesburg.  She is in fairly good health for a lady of her age. However, she has struggled after the passing of her husband and has been taking anti-depressant / anxiety medication for a few years, which was a difficult decision for her because she is rather “old school” when it comes to this kind of thing.

She is law-abiding with not so much as a parking ticket next to her name.  When the lockdown from 26 March 2020 was announced, she took it seriously and praised our President for this difficult decision.  She stocked up on everything that she thought she would need for the three week period, as announced.  Yes, she is fortunate in that she is one of the few in our country who could afford to do this.  Since that date she has left her home on three occasions to replenish some fresh supplies, pay her rates and taxes (she doesn’t do internet banking) and deliver something to a frail neighbor.  She has continued to pay her domestic worker, who comes to collect the money as, again, this lady doesn’t do internet banking.  She has managed to maintain her home and garden despite some occasional hip pain.  After all, she is 75 years old.

Get the picture?  Well, let me tell you something else about this 75 year old lady.  She is a smoker and has been for approximately 55 years.  She is well aware of the effect that this has on her health and although she did consider trying to give up the habit a few times in the past, this thought has not entered her head for many years now.  It is something that she enjoys and plans to continue to enjoy for the remainder of her life.  She is a nicotine addict.  She has never broken the law and she does not hurt people.  She even refuses to smoke when around certain people or in certain places, despite it being “allowed”.

So what has the ban on cigarette sales done to this lady? The people in power seemingly have no idea of what this causes:

  1. It has taken away her human right to smoke in the privacy of her own home.
  2. She has been forbidden from buying one of the most essential items in her life, something that brings her great comfort, especially during times of stress.
  3. Her stress levels have increased dramatically and placed her at significant risk of slipping into a state of deep depression.
  4. Her general health has been placed at increased risk as it is well known in the medical world that sudden withdrawal from nicotine can be dangerous, especially in the elderly.
  5. She has been made to feel like a criminal because, like many others in our country, her desperation has led her to enquire about the availability of cigarettes from any source and at any cost.

As a mental health professional, ex-smoker and daughter (yes, this lady is my mum), I cannot and will not ever condone this decision made by my government.  For what sound reason did they come up with such an idea?  Personally, I think it’s an absolute disgrace and I just wonder how many good, honest, caring, compliant, tax and law-abiding mums there are out there who have been forced into the same unthinkable situation?

And finally, this isn’t about the good and the bad of smoking, and it’s not specifically about the COVID-19 pandemic.  It’s about our rights as citizens. I hope as a reader you can see this clearly.  If so, I welcome your comments.

Take care everyone.

Lesley

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