When I first visited Cape Town four years ago, vaping was still in its infancy. I made sure to bring extra supplies with me on my trip, as I assumed that there would be no vape stores in the city for me to visit.
To my surprise, I saw several people walking around South Africa vaping. Before leaving, I had the opportunity to meet a few store owners. I walked away from those meetings knowing that South Africa’s vaping retailers were dedicated to providing an alternative to adult smokers.
Since my trip, vaping has continued to grow in South Africa. The story is the same as in Europe and the United States; as more adult smokers learn that there is a smoke-free technology product available that mimics smoking but without the smell and bad taste associated with cigarettes, the number of users grow and less cigarettes are sold.
Good news, right? Until now.
The government of South Africa is considering measures that would cause less adults to try vaping and lead to the closure of many vape businesses.
As early as this month, the Parliament of South Africa will begin work on changes to a law called the Tobacco Products Control Act. Those pushing this law claim that their goal is a Smoke-Free Africa, but when it comes to smoke-free vaping products, they seem to have one curious goal – do everything possible to keep adult smokers from using them.
Vaping products do not contain tobacco, but the government wants to classify them as ‘tobacco’ anyway. With that classification will come a set of industry-changing rules that will make it much harder for South Africans to become aware of vaping. Not only is the government seeking wide-ranging advertising and promotion bans that even extend to inside the businesses that sell e-cigarettes, but they also want to control the labels of e-cigarettes by instituting plain packaging. Additionally, businesses would be prohibited from allowing people to vape indoors, a move not justified by science.
This is terrible news for vapers and anyone who works in the e-cigarette industry.
By making it next to impossible for e-cigarette companies to attract new consumers, we will see growth in this market stagnate and quickly fall. Stores will soon close and consumers will find it harder to access their favourite products.
With South Africa hosting a large anti-tobacco conference in 2018, the political pressure to pass this legislation will be enormous.
We need your help to stop the Parliament from destroying the e-cigarette industry in South Africa.
Members of the South African Parliament need to hear from the people they represent. Right now, the message they are receiving from health activists, including the Minister of Health, is that e-cigarettes are “just as bad as cigarettes.”
If you are a smoker who has switched to vaping, you likely have a response to the government’s claim based on your own personal experience.
Right now, every legislator in the National Assembly is beginning to think about their 2019 election campaigns. Politics in South Africa is volatile and they all know that every vote counts.
If the South African government is serious about achieving a smoke-free nation, it is critical that vaping be allowed to grow in the country.
Your voice counts and it is time to get involved.
Written by Gregory Conley is the President of the American Vaping Association, a non-profit that advocates for policies that encourage adult smokers to switch to vaping products.