Department of Health Should Maintain Government’s Principle of Evidence-Based Policy Making in its Regulation of EVPs

In May 2021, Department of Health (DoH), conducted consultations with the vaping industry to assess the socio-economic impact of its proposed Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (COTPENDS) Bill. The Bill intends to introduce more stringent regulations of the tobacco industry as well as the vaping industry to reduce smoking rates in the country.

Whilst the Vapour Products Association of South Africa (VPASA) agrees and has been advocating for the regulation of the vaping industry, we are against the Department’s intention to regulate smoking and vaping as one and the same. Despite making a substantial submission in 2018, as called by the Department of Health, on the reasons vaping and smoking should not be conflated, the Department informed the vaping industry that only minor changes were made to the draft Bill released in May 2018 for public comments.

Though VPASA welcomed the opportunity to make a presentation on the impact the Bill will have on the vaping industry, we are not confident that our substantial inputs will be genuinely considered, in the same manner our submission was not considered in 2018. It is evident that the Department has not fully opened itself up to genuinely engaging the industry and better understanding the potential of vaping as an aid in the tobacco control fight. This not only has major implications for the future of the vaping industry, but for thousands of individuals who already have and may benefit from the use of Electronic Vapour Products (EVPs).

It has also become clear that the Department of Health has made up its mind regarding vaping and its perceived evil and no amount of scientific evidence will convince it otherwise. This goes against the government’s principle of evidence based and balanced policy making. The conduct of the Department of Health in the development of the Bill completely goes against the principles of the Socio-Economic Impact Assessment System (SEIAS). Government introduced the Socio-Economic Impact Assessment System (SEIAS) to assist public officials to systematically use evidence to design, review and implement policies, legislation and regulations for better outcomes and impact.

VPASA has, time and again, reiterated that it is not against the regulation of the vaping industry. It would be irresponsible to the industry to continue to exist without a legislative framework, as that could have serious implications for the industry and consumers. Regulation, however, should be based on evidence and should not be led by biased views and opinions. For government to regulate the industry fairly, it is imperative for government to conduct a full study and a full review of the available literature and scientific evidence on the vaping industry, as per the Department’s 2018 SEIAS report.

To better understand the local landscape, government ought to convene an inquiry into EVPs to determine their appropriate level of regulation and avoid hasty regulation that will have long-term consequences for the health of smokers. The Department should also follow the lead of countries such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand, to name a few, which have gone for a separate regulation of vaping from tobacco products.

However, efforts to regulate EVPs cannot be pursued in the absence of meaningful engagements between the vaping industry, government, and other stakeholders to fully grasp the category and understand the role EVPs can play in tobacco harm reduction. Again, it would be irresponsible for government to want to regulate an industry it does not fully understand. We can only hope that sense will prevail, and the Department of Health will consider the submission of the vaping industry at the SEIA consultation.