S.A can learn from other countries about youth & vape products
Electronic Vapour Products (EVPs) were designed as tobacco harm reduction tools to deliver nicotine to adult smokers with the aim of helping them find a potentially less harmful alternative.
The inhalation of smoke from combustible cigarettes – along with tar and carbon monoxide – raises health risks for a range of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), including lung cancer and emphysema.
In short: it’s the smoke that kills, not the nicotine.
The Vapour Products Association of South Africa (VPASA) which represents manufacturers and distributors of EVPs in South Africa has always been very clear in its message that access to EVPs should be secured for adult smokers, not for young people. “Our goal as an industry body is to educate adult smokers on potentially less harmful alternatives to tobacco, while discouraging, through education under-18s from vaping,” says Asanda Gcoyi, Chief Executive at VPASA.
The role that legislation plays is critical to establishing barriers to access in respect of the youth and will be worth learning from what countries with large EVP markets have done to tackle youth access prevention.
Twenty years ago, the United Kingdom had similar smoking rates to Indonesia, which is one of the top 10 countries with the highest smoking rates in the world. By 2019, smoking rates in the UK had dropped to 14%, that’s no coincidence. The country has instituted sensible regulations, promoting vaping for adult smokers while putting in place measures to dissuade under-18s from vaping and smoking. This policy position is informed by recommendations from Public Health England, an agency of the government, which found that vaping could make a significant contribution to displacing tobacco.
PHE released two reports on e-cigarettes in 2014, with a further review titled “E-cigarettes: an evidence update” in 2015, which held that vaping is less harmful than tobacco products.
Since then, PHE has regularly released updates to the 2015 review, the most recent being in 2021. Each review builds on the last, with an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that EVPs have an important role to play in ensuring consumers leave smoking to use less-harmful alternatives to tobacco.
Additionally, non-profit organisations such as the United Kingdom Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) have educated the public on the benefits of alternatives to cigarettes such as EVPs, but also that these products should not be used by minors.
This gave rise to major studies such as the Smokefree Youth Survey by Action on Smoking Health (ASH), conducted by YouGov, whose findings support mounting evidence that vaping uptake amongst young people remains uncommon.
In New Zealand, tobacco use has been illegal for anyone under the age of 18 for some time and the government has extended that prohibition to the sale of EVPs. This has led to a strong movement in the country to match the steps taken by the UK, to limit youth access while still striking a balance to ensure that EVPs remain available to adults. The country has introduced legislation, targeting youth access to EVPs, and coupled this with evidence-led educational campaigns for teachers, parents, and young people.
Back home in South Africa, the debate on the planned regulation of EVPs together with all other tobacco products under one Bill rages on. It is for this reason that VPASA has taken the decision to spearhead a move to self-regulation in respect of youth access prevention, establishing principles based on best-practice evidence from across the globe.
The result is a hard-hitting annual campaign, launched in 2021, that invites its members, as well as the wider vaping industry, to submit strict self-regulation and shut down the supply to under-18s. An important addition to this year’s campaign is guidelines on e-liquid packaging and branding.
Through this campaign, VPASA hopes to demonstrate that the industry is responsible and that its efforts and guidelines will be acknowledged by legislators and embraced in the Bill. This is how we can ensure that South Africa’s legislation around the use of EVPs becomes ranked among the best formulated in the world.