Public health researchers have called on the government to pass the Control of Tobacco and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill into law.
The bill is expected to further regulate the use, marketing and sales of e-cigarettes or vapes in South Africa, with these products currently operating in a legislative vacuum.
In a report published by the Africa Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research (ATIM), the researchers said that it has now been two years since the bill was closed for public comments.
During this time the e-cigarette industry, currently largely unregulated, has further taken hold in South Africa.
“While the tobacco and e-cigarette industry likes to position e-cigarettes as cessation aids, the limited effectiveness of these products for long-term quitting, the health harms associated with usage, and the industry’s clear and targeted marketing to youth, are facts which are conveniently omitted from their narrative,” said Professor Lekan Ayo-Yusuf, director at ATIM.
The series of recently published studies – conducted by the ATIM, University of Pretoria, and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) – assessed local e-cigarette use, evaluated the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as cessation aids, and analysed the costs of e-cigarette usage using multiple data sources, including two large population-level surveys.
Geospatial mapping was also used to understand the distribution of vape shops across South Africa and how this may impact youth usage.
A key finding from one of the studies was the substantial prevalence of e-cigarette use by South Africans older than 16 years.
Overall, 2.71% of adults, translating to 1.09 million people, used e-cigarettes daily or occasionally during 2018. Majority of current e-cigarette users (97.5%) were concurrently regularly smoking cigarettes.
In another study, for ‘ever established’ smokers of combustible tobacco products who had tried to quit, e-cigarette use was associated with higher likelihood of short-term, but not long-term quitting.
A cost study revealed that, contrary to claims made by e-cigarette manufacturers, using e-cigarettes is more expensive than smoking cigarettes when comparing daily users of both products over a one-year period.
“Untaxed for more than a decade in South Africa, e-cigarettes will only be taxed from this year, at a rate of 75% of the tax on tobacco.
“This will likely reduce initiation by youth and provide additional revenue to cover the health and economic harms they cause while contributing to funding the National Health Insurance” said Dr Catherine Egbeof of the SAMRC
In October 2020, the Department of Health said that it hoped to present the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill to president Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet by the end of 2020 – a deadline which has now come and gone.
Government also wants to introduce further restrictions around the smoking of cigarettes in public places.
The current smoking laws ban smoking in public places, but allow for designated smoking areas in places like bars, taverns and restaurants provided that they do not take up more than 25% of the venue.
Lawmakers want to change this to a 100% prohibition of smoking in public areas.
The department noted that smoking among adults has reduced from 32% in 1992 to 18% in 2012, in South Africa. More recent studies have shown that this number has since increased to more than 21%.
Data from the latest National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) estimates that there were approximately 6.7 million adult cigarette smokers (aged 18+) in South Africa before the start of the lockdown.