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South Africa vaping industry demands legal separation from Big Tobacco sector

The South African vaping industry is now demanding to be legally separated from the combustible tobacco sector and permitted to offer vapor products online for both sales and shipment throughout the level 3 COVID-19 lockdown.

On March 27, South African authorities banned the sales of all tobacco cigarettes and alcoholic beverages as part of the nation’s COVID-19 lockdown. Just as the need for such restrictions were beginning to lift in April, the government pushed back the threshold date for renewed tobacco cigarette sales to May 1. 

Unfortunately, the bans on tobacco and alcohol sales announced in March did not exempt the much safer alternatives of electronic cigarettes and closed-system vaping products. Naturally, the vaping community was outraged. The leading vaping advocacy group, the Vapour Products Association of South Africa (VPASA), immediately denounced the authorities’ decision to legally lump vapor and tobacco products into the same category.

VPASA:  ‘Vaping is not smoking'

According to a story posted on iol.co.za, VPASA President Asanda Gcoyi stated that treating combustible tobacco and vaping in the same legal manner poses considerable health, economic, and legal ramifications.  “Vaping is not smoking, those are two different things,” she said.  “Both vaping and cigarettes contain nicotine, but nicotine is not what kills people in smoking, people die because of the tar.”  Gcoyi is apparently referring to the overwhelming scientific evidence which shows that this noxious tar is only produced from the burning of tobacco leaves – which vaping does not involve. 

Related Article:  Tobacco expert: ‘People smoke for nicotine, but they die from tar’

Gcoyi also added, “There are world associations that are pushing for tobacco harm reduction, and South Africa is one of those countries. So, it baffles us that we know what we know, yet we’re choosing to pretend that we don’t know the science and that vaping is less harmful.” In this comment, Gcoyi was likely referring to published data by Public Health England and endorsed by the Royal College of Physicians in the United Kingdom which indicates vaping is 95 percent less harmful than smoking.

Furthermore, and in line with arguments by tobacco control experts around the world specialists, Gcoyi also expressed VPASA's concerns that vapers may return to the smoking of combustible tobacco or - perhaps even worse - the purchasing of black market vape products which have proven extremely unsafe since the EVALI scandal of 2019.

Related Article:  CDC finally agrees Black Market THC -not nicotine – primary cause of vaping crisis

“My other concern is the illicit market. People are buying vape juice from shops we know nothing about, we hear it’s available at spaza shops, stories that people are mixing juices at home, which is extremely dangerous, because they are just mixing things and the environment is not right.”

In VPASA's urging of the federal government to permit vape products to be purchased online for immediately shipment during coronavirus pandemic, Gcoyi also spotlighted the negative financial impacts of an extended ban. "We’ve got about 5000 direct jobs that are at risk and we’ve about 400-500 small businesses across South Africa, and a lot are on the brink of bankruptcy because they can’t sell,” she said.

For the American vapor industry, the debate occurring in South Africa could prove interesting.  In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also reclassified vaping devices and e-cigarettes to the category of “tobacco products” even though the e-liquids used in these products are 100 percent tobacco-free.

Related Article:   Study shows 57% reduction in carcinogen exposure within one week of switching to vaping

(Images courtesy of Shutterstock)

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