Like many other countries around the world, South Africa has a thriving e-cigarette industry. Yet, while the nation’s Health Department appear be taking a dim view, other governments are giving the green light to vaping.
Vaping has grown at an incredible rate across the globe and its arrival has changed millions of smokers’ lives. The adverse effects of smoking traditional tobacco products have long been known but many smokers find quitting the habit difficult. E-cigarettes have been found to be of benefit, with some health services even recommending them.
A French medical journal recently published a study into vaping, claiming that:
“All regular vapers are, or have been, smokers: the electronic cigarette in this way seems to consist of, at least for the moment, a solution to get out of smoking rather than a way in.”
The use of e-cigarettes can enable smokers to control and reduce the amount of nicotine they take in. In contrast to nicotine patches and gum, they also provide something for a regular smoker’s hands to do - to avoid that uncomfortable fidget that can be the earliest barrier to giving up.
The UK, meanwhile, has even added e-cigarettes to its list of prescription treatments to help smokers quit tobacco. Last year, Public Health England backed the use and availability of e-cigarettes via the NHS. In its report, it claimed that vaping was up to 95% safer than traditional cigarettes.
Worries do still exist - the industry is young and relatively unregulated at the moment, hence the inclusion of e-cigarettes in a new EU directive on tobacco and related products. The new rules do not aim to ban the products, so the best e-cigarette manufacturers should have nothing to worry about. It is merely to ensure that the liquids, their ingredients, and the vaping apparatus all meet safety guidelines to protect the consumers.
South African Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi is not convinced. In a recent interview with SABC, when discussing World No Tobacco Day, he said that e-cigarettes ought to be treated in much the same way that regular tobacco is.
“We are looking at it very carefully.” he said, “In the last framework (at the) Convention on Tobacco Control of the World Health Organisation held in South Korea recently, the decision was that we need to package e-cigarettes as just any other type of cigarette.”
Motsoaledi believes that there is some trickery at play among the vaping industry, claiming that - as some e-cigarettes contain nicotine, while others don’t, it is difficult to regulate.
“Some e-cigarettes have nicotine, which means they are just as bad as cigarettes – other don’t have nicotine,” he said. “Now that is a trick by the industry, saying that governments must only deal with those that have nicotine, which means I as a minister must now spend money to find out which ones do not have nicotine.”
“There is also a belief that those that don’t have nicotine, are introducing youngsters to smoking. When they start catching it, the next level is to go to real cigarettes.”
As stated earlier, studies suggest that doesn’t always appear to be the case. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US is also set to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products and bring in tougher guidelines on their sale and production.
South Africa became one of the first countries in the world to ban smoking in public places back in 2000. Vaping has been, so far, seen as an acceptable alternative. Clearly, though, Dr Motsoaledi is keen to ensure that his department remains at the forefront of protecting public health. The vaping industry in South Africa, and its consumers - estimated at some 200,000 people - will be watching his next move with interest.