As the world continues to grapple with the economic and social effects of the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19), and with the realisation that this virus will be part of our lives for a long-time to come, governments have been relaxing some of the stringent restrictions that characterised the initial response to the pandemic, such as hard lockdowns, that restricted movement of people and less economic activity.
South Africa is no different. The country has recently moved to level 3 of its risk adjusted strategy of the nation-wide lockdown, which has meant more opening up of economic activities and less restrictions. However, where the South African government has differed from the majority of governments throughout the world in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic, is the ban on sale of tobacco products and, by extension, the ban on the sale of Electronic Vaping Products (EVPs). South Africa is 1 of only 3 countries in the world to impose a ban on the sale of EVPs and tobacco products during the lockdown. This move has seen a rise in reports of illicit and counterfeit trade, as people have resorted to illegal means to get their nicotineproducts. The implications of the continued ban of EVPs during the lockdown is the relapse of ex-smokers, who have made progress in stopping smoking and long-term effects on consuming counterfeit products.
This is due to the government taking an ideological – as opposed to a scientific – stance on its decision to keep smokers and vapers from accessing these products. Some of the reasoning provided by government on the continued ban of EVPs is devoid of any scientific basis and government has selectively quoted studies and reports to justify its stance. Studies conducted by bodies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US and experts such as Konstantinos Farsalinos show that there is no evidence that vaping increases the risk of infection or progression to severe conditions of COVID-19. Besides government selectively citing studies to support its irrational decision, as the Vapour Products Association of South Africa (VPASA), we have also noted a general lack of understanding of EVPs from the media, policy makers and the general public.
The upcoming Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN), 11-12 June 2020, is opportune as it will assist in educating and creating awareness about the science behind EVPs and the role they can play in tobacco harm reduction. This year’s GFN will offer a valuable platform for scientists, the media, policy makers and consumers to engage on a number of issues around safer nicotine products, harm reduction and tobacco control policies.
As VPASA, we believe the GFN conference will shed light on the science of vaping and they relative harm spectrum compared to combustible tobacco products, and hopefully help address some of the misconceptions around vaping. Consequently, this will assist government to consider scientific facts when it comes to EVPs and regulate them accordingly.