No need for a wholesale ban on vaping

On 11 September 2019, the Trump administration announced that it intends to ban  flavoured vaping fluids, following an outbreak of a lung disease that has sickened hundreds and killed at least six people allegedly tied to vaping.  The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also announced that it is currently finalising guidelines to remove all non-tobacco flavours of e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol, from the market within 30 days.

Whilst the reported cases are a cause for concern, it is certainly disingenuous to pin them on vaping altogether. The FDA in a statement did state that they suspect the use of Vitamin E Acetate and THC oil added to vaping products. These are largely black-market products, with Dank Vapes, a growing but mysterious THC vape brand, being identified as the likely culprit in most of the illnesses. The FDA has advised vapers to avoid illicit products and to refrain from using THC oil or modifying/adding any substances to products purchased in stores. This is sensible view by the FDA as it reflects a recognition that vaping is still a far better alternative to smoking. Unlike the alarmist response of President Trump and some states in the US, the FDA does not seek to throw out the baby with the bath water, but rather, to focus its energies on ensuring that consumers are afforded the opportunity to get their nicotine from vaping without any heightened danger to their health.

Instituting a wholesale ban on vaping and vaping flavours, over what is patently a failure of the regulatory system to prevent the proliferation of counterfeit and illicit products is an illogical response. Its logical outcome is to deprive smokers of the opportunity to switch from smoking to a less harmful alternative whilst not addressing the underlying cause of the problem. This reactionary approach will also perpetuate the stubborn myth that vaping is more dangerous than smoking. It will artificially maintain tobacco stranglehold of the nicotine market and prevent legitimate and less harmful alternative from gaining a foothold and growing their share of the market without due cause.

In South Africa, the Chairperson of the South African Medical Association, Dr Angelique Coetzee in an interview with news channel ENCA claimed that vaping is associated with lung diseases such as cancer, bronchitis, pneumonia and the so-called popcorn lung disease. Other than being an embarrassing performance by a person who should know better, the interview by Dr Coetzee revealed the extent of ignorance about vaping that blights the South African landscape. This is unlikely to change until South Africans have a proper conversation about vaping’s place in the risk continuum, without defaulting to absolutist positions about abstinence which have proven to be very limited in their appeal to the vast majority of smokers.

Authorities around the world must take a sensible position on vaping. This must be informed by a proper evaluation of the science without reference to nativist positions that seek to mould smokers behaviour in ways that are not sustainable and which have failed to address the smoking pandemic across the world. Government must assess vaping for its harm reduction potential and desist from taking populist views that will not enhance the effort against non-communicable diseases, but rather strengthen the strange hold of tobacco over the nicotine consumption market. The government of the United Kingdom has been exemplary is putting place measures that promote the safety of vaping, whilst ensuring that young people prevented from taking up the habit in large numbers. The result of these efforts is that According Cancer Research UK, only 0.1% of people younger than 18 who have never smoked before view themselves are regular vapers. This is an impressive achievement considered against the rate of youth smoking which authorities around the world have struggled with over the years. Governments must take wins where these are available for the taking even if this goes against their inherent nanny instincts.