SA experts call for urgent regulation of e-cigarettes

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  • Experts say that current tobacco control laws need to be updated.
  • They are calling for the regulation of e-cigarettes.
  • Without regulation, e-cigarettes can be marketed without stating their harmful effects.

South African tobacco control experts say that current tobacco control laws are outdated and lack regulation regarding e-cigarettes.

The African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA) calls for urgent regulation of e-cigarettes through the swift implementation of the long-awaited Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill.

It's almost four years since the bill closed for public comments in August 2018. Since then, the e-cigarette industry has grown and is currently largely unregulated, says the ATCA.

Youth initiation

"While the new bill does not ban e-cigarette use by adults, it seeks to minimise e-cigarette use and the associated health impact, particularly e-cigarette use by children and non-smoking youth," said Dr Catherine Egbe of the South African Medical Research Council in a press statement.

She continues: "It does this through regulating advertising, packaging and the different flavours that have been shown to encourage youth initiation, as well as limiting areas in which these products can be sold and used. The proposed bill requires accurate health warnings and mandates proper labelling of the products; users must know the constituents of the products, their quantity and related risks."

The organisation says that the bill's implementation will also influence the impact of e-cigarette control beyond South Africa's borders.  

No restrictions

ATCA says that the unregulated e-cigarettes industry puts many South Africans in danger as they are marketed without the public knowing their harmful effects.

"We are deeply disturbed that South Africa still has no restrictions in place to vet e-cigarettes sold in the country. There are no robust pre-market evaluations, no marketing, labelling or packaging requirements. South Africa is well behind in protecting the public," says Dr Sharon Nyatsanza of the National Council Against Smoking. 

"As the World Health Organization recommends, we call for e-cigarettes [to] be regulated, to prevent initiation by non-smokers, particularly the youth, to minimise the health risks to users and non-users, whilst allowing informed adult access. It is important that swift action be taken to pass the Tobacco Control Bill into law," said Nyatsanza.

Global health problem

Egbe adds that there is a need for the regulation of e-cigarettes to reduce the health impacts of nicotine.

"There is no one standard to determine how harmful e-cigarettes are. Health harm varies based on a number of factors ranging from the level of nicotine, device type, ingredients used, battery type, how old the device is and importantly, variations made by specific users and use patterns. Some users inhale more deeply, some use higher voltage, some use the devices more frequently. These factors can further exacerbate the health risks associated with the use of e-cigarettes," she says.

Egbe also warns that e-cigarettes add to the health burden in South Africa.

"E-cigarette use has increasingly been recognised as a global public health problem due to the health harms associated with its use. These include respiratory health problems, like the exacerbation of asthma, bronchitis, tuberculosis, HIV/Aids and chronic risks to cardiovascular and oral health, as well as the negative impact of nicotine exposure and addiction on adolescent brain development," she says. 

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