E-Cigs: An Opportunity to Take the Fight Against Smoking Forward

The relatively recent emergence of Electronic Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENNDS), commonly known as e-cigarettes is one of the most revolutionary innovations in the area of public health. Their growing uptake in South Africa provides a unique opportunity to potentially lower the incidence of non-communicable diseases through the migration of smokers from combustible tobacco to the harm reduced alternative of e-cigarettes, which have been found to be 95% less harmful than tobacco by institutions such as the Royal College of Physicians. Though nicotine is a common, but not always present substance in both tobacco and vape juice (liquid used in vapes), there is a general consensus that the degrading chemicals prevalent in cigarettes are not found in e-cigarettes.

The relative new-ness of ENNDS does, however, present some challenges. In recent months, there has been an explosion of youth vaping in the United States of America, largely ascribed to market conduct by the largest e-cigs maker in the world, JUUL. Though no such explosion has been witnessed in South Africa, the Vapour Products Association of South Africa (VPASA) has taken note of this trend. Plans are currently being made to ensure that retailers are vigilant against this phenomenon as it threatens to undo the growing goodwill and positive sentiment towards vaping.

The Association intends to work closely with its members to ensure that they hold themselves to a high standard in providing safe and quality products to consumers, to not sell products to minors and provide good advice to all consumers on the handling of their devices. We will also embark on education campaigns to educate potential users about the harm reduced profile of vaping compared to smoking.

The Association also aims to work tirelessly to demystify vaping in the minds of many potential users who are subjected to a barrage of unscientific views about the health hazards of vaping. This misinformation emanates largely from anti-tobacco campaigners who insist that smokers go cold turkey in their efforts to quit nicotine, despite high failure rates, which have condemned many smokers to a poor quality of life in their later years.

The Association is also acutely aware, though not in agreement, of the fears of the Public Health Lobby and the Department of Health in particular, about the potential of ENNDS to act as a gateway into combustible tobacco. Though an understandable fear, given the regressive impact of tobacco, no evidence has thus far been lead by either the public health lobby, or government bodies, about ENDS users progressing to smoking tobacco. On the contrary, evidence points to ENDS being a gateway out of tobacco into what even the World Health Organisation acknowledges to be of potentially lesser harm to the health of users, despite the current absence of longitudinal studies that show the long-term health effects of vaping. 

VPASA intends to work with the Department of Health and the Public Health Lobby to craft an appropriate regulatory framework that not only protects the interests of consumers, but also enables the industry to continue playing a positive role in migrating smokers away from getting their fix from a deadly substance such as tobacco and assisting the Department of Health in their fight against non-communicable diseases.