By Dr. Eugene Brink
Puffing on e-cigarettes (also known as “vaping”) is a favourite pastime and a means of quitting or reducing smoking for many South Africans and people around the world.
The health risks of vaping, which still involves inhaling nicotine, is uncertain and many (often contradictory) theories and research on this abound. Some might view it as a less harmful means of weaning people off tobacco while others still see it as an addictive health hazard.
Be that as it may, odds are that you have seen someone drag their e-cigarette in public and certainly in non-smoking areas. Are they allowed to do it in this country considering that it still normalises smoking and contains nicotine? Some will shout “no!” while advocates of vaping will have their reasons for giving members of the public the go-ahead. Most of us are not sure. Let’s look at the real state of affairs.
The truth is that currently there are no specific regulations or legislation regarding vaping – i.e. on where you may vape and who may vape. But this could change in 2018, when a raft of regulations is expected to be rolled out. This shows that government is taking heed of those opposed to vaping and the possible risks thereof.
Anti-smoking lobbyists want the laws to be amended in order for vaping to be more tightly regulated. Executive director of the National Council Against Smoking, Savera Kalideen, told IOL at the end of last year that although vaping should not be compared to cigarettes (which contain tobacco), it should be compared to itself as it too is harmful. “We agree the law (Tobacco Products Control Amendment Act) should be amended, because there is evidence that it harms. It is not covered under the law because there were no e-cigarettes or vaping when the law was passed.”
“We know they contain nicotine and they can lead to increased blood pressure, lung disease and damage to the heart. You can use them on your journey to quit; they are a tool to assist giving up the habit. They are still harmful and are not risk free.”
She says it was originally designed to help smokers kick the habit, but that people who have never smoked before are vaping now as a recreational midway between not smoking at all and smoking normal cigarettes.
Kabir Kaleechurn, director of South Africa’s Vapour Product Association (VPA), says the two smoking processes are different and should not be regulated in the same way. “Tobacco smoking relies on burning of tobacco, the cause of all cigarette-smoking health risks, while vaping relies on a gentle heating process to deliver its nicotine.
“In many countries, the legislation places e-cigarettes in the same category as tobacco. In South Africa, e-cigarettes are not covered by the Tobacco Products Control Act, or by the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act. It seems that the act of combustion and smoke preclude e-cigarettes being regarded as cigarettes.
“They also do not fall under the Medicines Act as they are marketed solely for recreational purposes.”
Popo Maja, spokesperson for the National Department of Health, says there are plans to amend the legislation to include vaping and agrees that despite vaping not being quite the same as smoking cigarettes, it is not harmless. “Vaping is being marketed as a ‘safe’ alternative to smoking. Some vapours may be less harmful than smoking normal cigarettes, but the reality is, it is not harmless and contributes to normalising smoking behaviour.”
Even the VPA expects changes to be implemented sometime during this year and has invited the public’s comments on this issue.
Hence, where can I vape? Mark van der Heever, spokesperson for the Western Cape Department of Health, agrees with Kaleechurn that vaping doesn’t involve tobacco and currently doesn’t fall under the Tobacco Products Control Act. He concedes, however, that it does contribute to the normalisation of smoking and that the department is considering regulating it.
Until then, writes Herman Eloff on News24, vaping in public spaces like malls and restaurants will be left to the discretion of the owners (and also the vapers) as there is nothing specific that regulates (or prohibits) its use. The VPA has, however, pre-empted the regulation process by committing itself to self-regulation. “We have voluntarily committed ourselves to not selling the product to and by people under the age of 18,” Kaleechurn told the legal advice website, GoLegal.
eNCA, 27 November 2017, “Public urged to shape SA vaping laws”, https://www.enca.com/life/you-can-shape-the-vaping-future-of-south-africa.
GoLegal, n.d., “Regulatory confusion regarding e-cigarettes & vaping will be resolved”, https://www.golegal.co.za/e-cigarettes-vaping/.
Herman Eloff, 14 October 2014, “5 things you should know before vaping”, https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/5-things-you-should-probably-know-before-vaping-20141014.
Yolisa Tswanya, 10 November 2017, “Vaping draws fire in war on smoking”, https://www.iol.co.za/capeargus/news/vaping-draws-fire-in-war-on-smoking-11946325.