Rooibos leaves
  • Some desperate South African smokers have turned to rooibos amid the continuing cigarette sales ban.
  • Results are generally unsatisfactory, with one smoker describing it as tasting "like lawn with a slight hint of stable".
  • A medical professor warns against smoking tea. 
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Desperate for cigarettes and tobacco, some South African smokers have turned to smoking tea, with mixed results.

It has been illegal to buy and sell cigarettes since the start of the national lockdown, on 27 March.

“Smoking tea doesn't quite satisfy the craving, but tricks the mind well enough,” a 29-year Melville resident told Business Insider SA. Before she ran out during lockdown, she used to smoke Golden Virginia rolling tobacco. “So, the transition to smoking tea was fairly easy.” Tea smokers roll the leaves up in smoking paper (like Rizla).

One tea smoker found that rooibos is difficult to roll. “The leaves are very dry, so the texture is not ideal. Smells like veld fire. Tastes like lawn with a slight hint of stable.” But, he added in a Facebook post, it was surprisingly strong. “Not Texan strong, but Stuyvesant red strong.” Other tea smokers reported coughing fits after smoking tea.

The Melville smoker tried Freshpak Rooibos. “It tastes a little like a forest fire, but leaves a nice rooibos-y aftertaste. I smoked plain rooibos, without adding anything to it. It burns surprisingly well, like an actual cigarette would; but it's quite difficult to roll because the tea is so dry.”

She has also tried smoking chamomile tea. It tastes better, rolls better, and has calming properties, she says.

READ | ‘Value’ cigarette brands are widely sold despite the tobacco ban – and they’re awful

Professor Keertan Dheda, director of the Centre for Lung Infection and Immunity and head of the division of pulmonology at the University of Cape Town, says he is not aware of research studies that examined the safety of smoking rooibos tea. 

“However, smoking tea will result in the inhalation of several substances, including caffeine and particulate matter, which is likely to be harmful in the long run.  Chronic inhalation of particulate matter is often associated with subversion of immune responses and structural lung damage and therefore, as a general rule, I would advise against it."

Studies are required to explore this further and unequivocally demonstrate the dangers of smoking tea leaves.

He says that various other substances (including nicotine products) are often shredded and mixed with tea leaves to gain the effect of nicotine.  One study showed that this could release a number of harmful substances and toxins including formaldehyde. 

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