South Africa's New Tobacco Bill – A Balancing Act Is Needed

South Africa's newly proposed Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill is now open for public comment. It was tabled before Parliament in December 2022 and has undergone extensive review and consultations, outlining new regulations and prohibitions for tobacco smoking and electronic cigarettes.

In broad terms, the bill surges forward with its intention to regulate vapor products in the same manner as traditional tobacco products. It aims to minimize advertising and promotion of vapor products, meaning the industry will be unable to educate people about less-harmful alternatives to deadly tobacco products — which is not okay!

The bill treats vaping and smoking as one – interchangeably using smoking and vaping. Section 2(1)(a) of the proposed Tobacco Control Bill inaccurately treats vaping and smoking as the same thing, yet the two are simply not the same! Tobacco smoking delivers nicotine by burning tobacco, which can cause smoking-related illnesses while vaping delivers nicotine by heating a liquid in a much less harmful way.

Also, South Africa's Health Minister will be given unfettered powers to regulate vaping ingredients, product standards, packaging, and where, when and by whom vapes can be sold - without undergoing normal consultation processes.

Safer alternatives to combustible cigarettes should form the backbone of tobacco harm reduction in South Africa and be seen more as a solution to a problem rather than a new problem. Vaping products are not only getting regulated by the proposed bill but are also being drawn into the ambit of excise taxes as provided in the updated Tobacco Product Excise.

The newly imposed excise duty on electronic cigarettes has already taken its toll on retailers, with many arguing that the tax has had the adverse effects of driving consumers toward the illicit market. The new tax is pushing consumers to purchase the highest and most addictive nicotine-content e-liquid as it is a cheaper option, negating the original aim of the National Treasury to tackle health-related issues.

The Government's position reflects a deep-seated failure of ideology and affinity for selective global solutions that do not consider the specificities of different countries.The proposed bill is going to make it very difficult for committed smokers to access less harmful alternatives to smoking.

Countries such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand have demonstrated that a mixture of laws and policies encouraging smokers to switch to less harmful alternatives can yield positive results.

There's a large number of long-term smokers who have been unable to quit smoking and South Africa should not miss the opportunity to save those people's lives by making widely available less harmful tools such as electronic cigarettes. It is extremely important to reduce the health burden that traditional smoking has on South Africa's public healthcare system.

The bill is at a critical stage —the parliamentary public participation process is currently underway and it is crucial that we take full advantage of this opportunity to shape the future of vaping in South Africa.

The portfolio committee on health welcomes all comments on the bill until September 4, 2023. Written submissions can be e-mailed to: [email protected] or online https://forms.gle/FLrhnvThDk8ccLG97 by no later than September 4.

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