One of the most remarkable developments in post-apartheid South Africa has been the enactment of an array of progressive legislation that gives practical expression to the essence of freedom. However, there are notable exceptions to this progressive trajectory. The country’s recent history is awash with examples of lawmakers demonstrating a penchant for regulating industries that they are not perfectly familiar with. This is the case with the Electronic Vaping Products (EVPs) and the industry, as experience with the Covid-19 national lockdown has shown.
The banning of the sale of EVPs during the lockdown by the South African government has largely been based on intuition, rather than science, and finds resonance with the government’s long-held negative posture towards tobacco. Government has demonstrated a lack of appreciation or awareness on the science behind vaping and its harm reduced spectrum in relation to smoking. A peer-reviewed study by cardiologist and harm reduction expert Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos found that there is no clinical evidence that proves that smoking and vaping are a predisposing factor for hospitalisation for Covid-19.
Just as cabinet resolved a few weeks to be guided by scientific evidence in deciding when and how to open up the economy, the same should happen when it comes to EVPs. The guidance by science should apply well beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, as government seeks to regulate EVPs. In seeking to regulate tobacco products and EVPs in the same manner, the Department of Health is seemingly ignoring the available evidence that has proven that EVPs are a less harmful alternative to combustible cigarettes by reputable institutions such as the Royal College of Physicians and Public Health England, which went further to recommend the promotion of EVPs as a tobacco harm reduction tool.
With that said, the Vapour Products Association of South Africa (VPASA) is not against regulation of the industry. On the contrary, VPASA is for regulation that seeks to introduce standardisation in the manufacturing of vaping devices and e-liquids and minimises access to EVPs by minors. The regulation of EVPs should provide a conducive environment to those smokers wishing to move to less harmful alternatives of ingesting nicotine.
It is important that our policymakers are not closed off to receiving and considering evidence-based information that can help guide their policymaking and decision making, when it comes to EVPs. In addition, policymakers and “experts” that government relies on in the regulation of EVPs, should be guided by sound scientific evidence instead of allowing their personal views to cloud differences between smoking and vaping.