Just a few years ago, e-cigarettes were seen in one of two ways: as an alternative to combustible cigarettes or as the next millennial trend that would die out alongside artisanal beer and ironic T-shirts. These days vapes (as they’ve become known) and vapour products are used by thousands of South Africans every day. But the industry is still in its infancy and lacks the appropriate legislation and safety standards to which other consumer products are subjected. As such, the vaping industries in other countries have seen black-market products — that do not conform to safety standards, best practices, age restrictions or normative regulations — finding their way into consumers’ hands.
In the United States, the Massachusetts governor declared a public health emergency in late 2019 after 1 604 cases of people displaying signs of lung disease was reported to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) across 49 states, including 34 deaths. The CDC found that all those affected had used contaminated black-market THC products. Since then, President Donald Trump has called for a ban on flavoured vape cartridges, which has been enacted by several other US governors until early February. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is yet to announce a definitive finding about the cause of the illnesses, there is a general acceptance that the diseases were not, in fact, caused by nicotine vapes.
In South Africa, the Vapour Products Association of South Africa (VPASA), an organisation that aims to work with government and other stakeholders to develop legal regulations and standards for the industry, continue its efforts to ensure vapour products entering the South African market are manufactured by trusted brands and are not sold to individuals under the age of 18. However, there is widespread concern about the country’s lack of appropriate legislation when it comes to e-cigarettes and other vapour products. This comes especially from public health organisations such as the Council Against Smoking of South Africa, which has been advocating for vapour products to be regulated in the same manner as combustible tobacco.
In 2018, the national Department of Health published the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems Bill for public comment. The Draft Bill repeals the Tobacco Products Control Act 83, 1993, and introduces stringent tobacco-grade regulations for vaping, including production and manufacturing, sales and advertising, and prohibition to under-18s. However, little progress has been made on the Bill since its deadline for public comment was reached.
VPASA, along with other organisations, have opposed the Bill and are appealing to the government to implement proper legislation that recognises the differences between vapour products and tobacco products. In its current form, the Bill does not adequately distinguish cigarettes and vapour products on a harm-reduction continuum but rather applies a blanket approach whose only commonality is the presence of nicotine. The Bill also fails to benchmark South Africa against countries that are at the forefront of vaping regulations such as the United Kingdom and the broader EU, where vapour products are largely seen as a less harmful alternative to tobacco products. In fact, the approach of the UK government to vaping regulation has led to a reduction of smokers in the UK, where approximately 220 recorded deaths a day are related to smoking and tobacco. According to Public Health England, 1.5 million of 3 million smokers who switched to vaping have reportedly stopped smoking altogether.
“From a legislation and regulation point of view, South Africa should treat vapour products and tobacco products separately, and view vaping as an alternative to tobacco,” says VPASA chief executive Asanda Gcoyi. “Adult individuals should also be given the opportunity to make their own decisions about whether or not to use vapour products. Although VPASA and the industry do not deny the possibility of harm from vaping, our stance has always been, and will remain, that vapour products are less harmful and that individuals under the age of 18 and those who do not currently smoke tobacco or use vapour products should not start.
“Additionally, preventing the development of an industry for these products denies individuals the benefits of vapour technologies acting as an efficient harm-reduction tool for an alternative to reduce or quit smoking.”
: MyPR Guest PR
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