Big fight brewing over ‘irrational’ smoking and vaping laws in South Africa

 ·29 Aug 2023

While all parties agree smoking and vaping should be regulated in South Africa, a significant industry player is contesting the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill in its current form.

Multinational tobacco company Philip Morris South Africa (PMSA) is pushing back strongly against the bill, saying that’s proposed laws lack nuance and scientific justification – to the extent that they are irrational.

While the new smoking laws mainly take aim at cigarettes and tobacco smoking – including a complete public ban on smoking, display bans in shops, and generic packaging for all products – the bill also brings regulation and control of electronic nicotine delivery systems and no nicotine delivery systems.

Public consultations over the so-called “vaping laws” have been well-received, and there is general agreement that regulations for the sector – which has been operating in a largely regulation environment – are needed.

However, Philip Morris is calling for the regulations to be split, so that combustible cigarettes (standard tobacco smoking) and non-combustible alternatives such as vapes and e-cigarettes are not treated the same.

The company said that there are vast differences between non-combusted alternatives and cigarettes, stating that they should be regulated differently based on the different risk profiles of these products, as supported by scientific evidence.

“There is a clear call for support of differentiated regulation of non-combusted alternatives to smoking to be included in the proposed (bill),” the group said. However, the coming laws get basics and fundamentals wrong – like describing vaping as smoking when the process does not produce smoke.

During the briefing, PMSA unpacked the issues surrounding the Bill and highlighted solutions it believes are being denied by regulators in South Africa.

The company raised several concerns which they believe should be considered by legislators, and include:

  • There are 11 million adult smokers in South Africa. It is in the public interest for legislation regulating tobacco products to facilitate, rather than obstruct or prohibit, the dissemination of scientifically reliable information regarding less harmful alternatives to cigarettes.

This will enable those adults who choose to continue using tobacco products to make informed choices about less harmful alternatives. This will contribute to the achievement of policy and legislative objectives.

  • Different tobacco and nicotine-containing products, specifically combusted tobacco products and non-combusted alternatives (such as e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products and other oral smoke-free products), should be regulated in accordance with recent and available scientific evidence and the different risk profiles of each product for adult smokers.

International best practice supports differentiated regulation of combusted tobacco products and non-combusted alternatives.

  • Progress in addressing the harm caused by smoking can be accelerated by complementing prevention and cessation efforts with switching adult smokers to less harmful non-combusted alternatives.
  • Scientifically substantiated non-combusted alternatives have the potential to significantly reduce harm to adult smokers compared with continued smoking.

“The current approach adopted in the Bill lacks nuance and scientific justification to the extent that it is irrational,“ said Ulreich Tromp, Director of External Affairs Southern Africa at PMSA.

“The resultant proposed legislative mechanisms set out in the 2022 Bill will not advance the public interest.”

Tromp explained that the Bill should include differentiated communication rules and differentiated rules for packaging, labelling and ingredients to ensure that adult smokers who do not quit understand the difference and benefits of better alternatives versus continued smoking and that such alternatives are acceptable for them.

Buhle Binta, Head of Scientific Engagement at PMSA, added that the proposed definition of ‘smoking’ is factually wrong and should also be amended to accurately reflect its scientific meaning and should not include non-combusted alternatives that do not burn tobacco and, therefore, do not generate smoke.”

Neetesh Ramjee, Director of External Affairs Regulatory at PMSA, noted that “non-combusted alternatives have led to historic declines in smoking rates in countries such as Japan and Sweden”.

He added that the USA, UK and New Zealand have also recognised the potential of non-combusted alternatives in reducing the harm caused by smoking and are today complementing their prevention and cessation support efforts with a tobacco harm reduction strategy.

“Different approaches are needed to accelerate major declines in smoking and associated diseases – the Bill fails to recognise this,” Ramjee said.

He noted, however, that PMSA agrees that non-combusted alternatives must be regulated to minimise the risk of youth and non-smokers using these products and to ensure that adult smokers understand that these non-combusted alternatives are addictive and not risk-free.

“Youth should not have access to any tobacco or nicotine-containing products, and communications in relation to non-combusted alternatives should be restricted to limit the reach and appeal to the youth,” he added.

“The Bill in its current form prevents South African adult smokers from becoming aware of and obtaining accurate information about scientifically substantiated alternatives to continued smoking,” said Tromp.

“While these non-combusted alternatives are not risk-free, and they usually contain nicotine, which is addictive, they are a much better choice for adults than continued smoking,” he added.

“Regulators need to hear all voices in the process with more consultation with other stakeholders, medical professionals, industry bodies and adult smokers, which will be key to ensure the law is inclusive, representative of all parties and is driven by science,” he said.

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