It’s World Stroke Week from 28 October to 2 November, with World Stroke Day falling on 29 October. Every day in South Africa nearly 240 people will suffer a stroke. Of these, 70 may die. Some people who survive a stroke will recover fully but many people will be left with lasting disabilities. Strokes not only affect the survivor’s ability to live a normal life but can also have devastating consequences for their loved ones. 

#Protectournext partners, including the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), CANSA, the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), the South African Tobacco Free Youth Forum (SATFYF) and the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa are highlighting that smoking is a major risk factor for stroke. The sooner South Africa passes the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill into law, the sooner all South Africans will be better protected from the multiple health risks posed by smoking, including cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Key points on stroke and smoking:

Smoking is the second leading cause of cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease, after high blood pressure. #protectournext encourages all South Africans to avoid smoking or the use of other tobacco products and to protect themselves and their families from exposure to second-hand smoke, or passive smoking.

Smoking makes you twice as likely to die if you have a stroke, and the more you smoke, the greater your risk of stroke. If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, you are six times more likely to have a stroke compared to a non-smoker.

Your risk of stroke decreases after you stop smoking. In some studies, the risk of stroke in ex-smokers becomes similar to people who have never smoked after five to ten years. Importantly, stopping smoking reduces the risk of stroke in people with high blood pressure.

Chemicals from smoke affect your blood, making it thicker, stickier and more likely to form clots. They cause fatty material (plaque) to build up on your blood vessel walls faster. This process starts early and can be seen in smokers in their teens and early twenties. 

Smoking reduces the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol (also called HDL) in your blood stream and increases levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (also called LDL). Having low levels of ‘good’ cholesterol in your body increases your risk of stroke. 

When you inhale cigarette smoke, carbon monoxide and nicotine enter your blood – reducing the amount of oxygen, making your heartbeat faster, and raising blood pressure. This increases your stroke risk. 

The chemicals in smoke make your platelets, a type of blood cell, more likely to stick together. This increases the chance of a clot forming – causing stroke. 

Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 toxic chemicals which change and damage cells all around your body. The changes that these chemicals cause can increase your risk of stroke. 

Women who smoke and use oral contraception are almost four times more likely to have a stroke than women who use neither. This risk increases with age. 

Breathing in someone else’s smoke is hazardous. Children are particularly vulnerable to passive smoking as they have less well-developed airways, lungs and immune systems. 

Smoking is a controllable risk factor for stroke – a factor that people have the power to change! By stopping, you are greatly reducing the risks you are posing to your family, friends and people around you.

When you quit…

Facebook: @protectournext


Available for interview:

Dr Catherine Egbe, Specialist Scientist: Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council

Dr Sharon Nyatsanza, Project and Communications Manager, NCAS

Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO, The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa
Lorraine Govender, National Advocacy Co-Ordinator, CANSA

Media contact:

Tamaryn Brown

Connect Media for CART agency

+ 27 (0) 84 3510560

Dr Sharon Nyatsanza of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS) says a respiratory pandemic is an opportune time for an increased focus on tobacco control, especially as new evidence shows a strong link between smoking and increased risks of severe COVID-19. According to UK Biobank research published in a leading respiratory journal, Thoraxsmoking increases the chances of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms by 80% and increases the risk of death by 511%, for smokers who smoke 20 or more cigarettes a day. 

The new study found that compared with those who had never smoked, current smokers were 80% more likely to be admitted to hospital. It found that heavy smoking significantly increased chances of dying from COVID-19 complications, by up to 511% for those who smoked 20 or more cigarettes a day – compared to non-smokers. The UK study drew on primary care records, COVID-19 test results, hospital admissions data and death certificates to look for associations between smoking and COVID-19 infection severity from January to August 2020 in over 400 000 participants of the UK Biobank. 

“This study strengthens the evidence base and establishes a causal link between smoking and serious COVID-19 complications,” says Dr Sharon Nyatsanza, Deputy Director of the National Council Against Smoking. “It also supports the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister’s case, who has since been granted leave to appeal the Western Cape Judgement over the temporary ban on tobacco sales. A key justification raised by government, was that tobacco use was linked to worse Covid-19 outcomes and that the ban was important in easing the burden on the health system.”

Nyatsanza highlights the importance of passing South Africa’s new Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill as soon as possible, particularly with reports from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) indicating that the death toll from Covid-19 is up to three times more than reported, making South Africa one of the worst affected countries in the world.  “We need urgent action to pass this updated and comprehensive set of measures to better protect our nation’s health and reduce the burden of tobacco-related disease on our health system, now and beyond the pandemic.”

Nyatsanza says that encouraging people to quit smoking and reducing smoking prevalence should be high on the list of preventive steps, as it keeps people out of hospital.  “Smoking is related to the risk of getting severe Covid-19, as it is to a number of non-communicable diseases like cancers and cardiovascular disease. Now is the time to quit smoking.” 

Smokers who need help to stop smoking can call the NCAS Quitline at 011720 3145 or send a WhatsApp message on 0727664812.


For further information, contact:

Sharon Nyatsanza: 079 666 1356 / 011 725 1514
Deputy Director of the National Council Against Smoking 
The National Council Against Smoking is a leading not-for-profit organization working to promote public health by encouraging a tobacco-free society.

Notes to editor:

  1. Research article: Clift, A.K., et al. (2021) Smoking and COVID-19 outcomes: an observational and Mendelian randomisation study using the UK Biobank cohort. Thorax.


Media Contact:
Tamaryn Brown
Connect Media
084 3510560 /