In a bid to reduce smoking rates in South Africa, the Department of Health(DoH) published the draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (COTPENDS) Bill in May 2018, for public comment. The draft bill aims to introduce stricter tobacco control measures and regulate Electronic Vaping Products (EVPs).
The Vaping Products Association of South Africa (VPASA) recognises the need for stricter tobacco controls but cautions that the Department of Health has missed the mark by attempting to regulate smoking and vaping under the same bill. VPASA accepts that a properly considered set of regulations are required that will safeguard the public health interest, but at the same time, it must not unduly stymie an industry that can play a huge role in saving millions of smokers from cancer-causing diseases.
The key difference between traditional cigarettes and EVPs is that the latter does not contain tobacco. Whilst smoking is the inhalation of the smoke from burning tobacco, vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapour from an electronic device. Importantly, EVPs do not contain the carcinogens found in combustible tobacco products which have been scientifically found to contribute substantially to the growing incidence of non-communicable diseases globally.
This is not to say that VPASA is opposed to the regulation of the vaping industry. On the contrary, VPASA is pro-regulation of the vaping industry, just not through the proposed COTPENDS Bill.
As it stands, the draft bill is likely to discourage smokers from making the switch to less harmful alternatives, such as EVPs. Public Health England concluded that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking. In addition, EVPs have been proven to be an effective smoking cessation tool in the long term. The Royal College of Physicians underlined that people smoke because they are addicted to nicotine but are harmed by the other constituents of tobacco smoke, and that provision of the nicotine without the other harmful components can prevent most of the harm from smoking. The Cochrane Library, after reviewing hundreds of studies, concluded that EVPs are a more effective smoking cessation aid than other forms of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), such as chewing gum and patches, and may increase the number of people who stop smoking.
Tobacco control has been around for decades, and yet smoking rates have not decreased significantly. It is for that reason that VPASA has been calling for the South African government to adopt tobacco harm reduction as part of its tobacco control strategies.
With the understanding that vaping and smoking are not the same, it is therefore inconceivable that vaping and smoking be regulated in the same manner. It is on that basis that VPASA is and has been advocating for a separate regulatory regime for vaping. Such a bill should allow EVPs to play a role in reducing the harm caused by tobacco as well as ensure that adult smokers are not deprived of information on less harmful alternatives.
Providing proper information to consumers will also contribute to clamping down on illicit and counterfeit products. This is going to be a big threat for the industry and health if not properly managed upfront. There is already a growing incidence of illicit trade where traders are taking advantage of the unavailability of information to dupe unsuspecting buyers into procuring illicit products whose chemical makeup has not been assured. The bill should also see to it that appropriate standards are developed for the industry to promote consumer safety and product quality.
Based on scientific evidence, the government must take a measured approach towards regulating EVPs as they can be regarded as a novel development in the public health arena and the fight against smoking in South Africa. Policy goals should not be to deny smokers the possibility to benefit from advanced technologies based on our disdain for the habit of smoking. Efforts should be geared to ensure the safe evolution of vaping devices and access on a more equitable basis. That will only be possible with the development of a bill geared towards regulating the vaping industry and not through the COTPENDS Bill as it stands.