There are some sectors of the South African society that are growing frustrated with the prolonged lockdown and some government regulations and restrictions on level 4. Chief among the frustration has been the unbanning and banning of the sale of cigarettes and Electronic Vaping Products (EVPs) with government stating that the banning was extended for health reasons. The vaping industry has fallen victim to the misconception that vaping is the same as smoking.
With governments and public health authorities scrambling to mount an effective response to the global pandemic, vaping has become a target of health authorities and anti-tobacco campaigners who deliberately misrepresent the harm reduction aspect of vaping. At a press conference on the 8th of March, New York Mayor, Bill de Blasio, told journalists that vaping increased the risk of suffering from COVID-19 without any shred of scientific evidence. Reacting to Mayor de Blasio’s claims, Professor Riccardo Polosa, a specialist in respiratory diseases and clinical immunology, urged the Mayor to get his facts straight and stop placing smoking and vaping on the same level.
The Science Media Research Center and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recently admitted that currently there is no research that proves there is a link between vaping and the novel coronavirus. The US Food and Drug Administration has also recently revised its position or stance on vaping and covid-19 stating that “E-cigarette use can expose the lungs to toxic chemicals, but whether those exposures increase the risk of Covid-19 is not known”.
Based on emerging trends around the world and admissions by institutions that there is no clear link between vaping and COVID-19, the National Coronavirus Command Council should reconsider its stance on banning the sale of EVPs during level 4. As evidence from Public Health England has shown, e-cigarettes are much safer than combustible cigarettes and have proved an incredibly effective tool to help people find an alternative. Failure to lift the ban on the sale of vaping products risks entrenching the perception of equivalent harm between vaping and tobacco which will erode the potential for tobacco harm reduction strategies in South Africa in the long term.