Vaping retailer Craig Stuart restricts his clientele to those over 18 years old. Duncan Guy
Vaping retailer Craig Stuart restricts his clientele to those over 18 years old. Duncan Guy

Debating about vaping

By Duncan Guy Time of article published May 1, 2021

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Durban - What is more harmful to young people ‒ cigarettes or vaping?

“Young people are of the view that vaping is different from cigarettes but it can be more harmful than cigarettes,” Fathima Hussain, director of the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca) in Durban told the Independent on Saturday yesterday.

A vape retailer who forbids under 18-year-olds entry to his shop believes the opposite: that vaping is 95% to 98% healthier than smoking and that young people who were vaping were indulging in a lesser evil.

“I would rather not have kids smoking (cigarettes),” said Craig Stuart.

He added that the youth were a small section of his vaping customers, who enter his Essenwood outlet by ringing a doorbell, and may be asked for their identity documents.

“People are focussed on the negative, saying that the young are not taken into consideration, but the youth are a very small sector of the market.”

Stuart added that, out on the streets there is a huge parallel market, born during last year’s lockdown when vaping was lumped with tobacco and banned.

Sanca’s Hussain stressed the dangers of vaping.

“Due to the high nicotine levels, vaping is extremely addictive and young people are already more susceptible to addiction because their brains are still developing and they are more prone to habituate to using drugs and alcohol,” said Hussain.

“Addiction can impact on the ability to focus.”

“Nicotine is highly addictive and can slow brain development in young people and affect memory, concentration, learning, self-control and mood. Hence, it increases the risk of the other types of addictions later in life”.

Stuart, who says the conversion from smoking tobacco to vaping contributed significantly to saving his own life, said it was obviously better for people to neither vape nor smoke tobacco.

“Unfortunately, everyone has a vice.”

Stuart said his industry had taken a cue from the tobacco and alcohol industry by choosing 18 as its voluntarily-imposed cut off age.

“If one is older than 18, one is old enough to make the decision to smoke or vape,” adding that he doubted nicotine automatically led to the use of drugs.

“If a person has an addictive personality, then maybe but I highly doubt it.”

Hussain said that vaping, having originated as a smoking cessation had “quickly become a popular and addictive product in its own right”.

“The recent rise in popularity of young people moving to vaping is strongly attributed to packaging and advertising. Young people are after innovation and are attracted by sleek design and ease of use,” she said.

Stuart also had a beef with the world of big business, saying that the lobby against vaping in the United States had been driven by revenue losses as a result of it eroding the popularity of tobacco.

“As soon as you bring money into the equation, nobody cares about health.”

The United Kingdom, on the other hand, had embraced the benefits of vaping, even allowing vaping shops to be in hospitals.

VPASA CEO Asanda Gcoyi said that prematurely exposing young people to an addictive substance such as nicotine was incorrect.

“As an association, we want to play our role in ensuring that these products are kept out of the hands of minors. We want to create a responsible industry and most importantly, educate people who may not know that vaping is not for people who have never smoked, but rather for smokers seeking a less-harmful alternative to cigarettes.”

Gcoyi said the launch of the campaign was delayed by the pandemic.

“Across the globe, there is growing concern over the easy access to vaping products by young people.

“As an industry that is not regulated, we thought it would be important to lead the charge and be proactive on the continent about advocating that these products are not for young people.”

This stance had been embedded in VPASA’s code of conduct since its inception, he said.

More than 65% of the South African vaping industry holds VPASA membership.

He said the association had created several other guidelines.

“These guidelines address the fact that people access vapour products at physical stores as well as online.

“With physical stores, we’ve provided all our members with guidelines in terms of what types of signage need to be visible, for example, point-of-sale signs that say no sales will be made to under-18s and posters that tell customers they may need to provide ID when purchasing vapour products.

“So if a customer looks young, the seller has the right to verify their age by asking for ID, and knowing that upfront as a customer is important.”

Online EVP retailers have also been asked to add age gateways to their portals that will require consumers to enter their date of birth, said Gcoyi.

“Over and above the double age verification and the payment through credit cards, we have asked online retailers to partner with courier companies that will verify a customer’s age on delivery and refuse to deliver should the customer be under-18.”

“These are just a couple of examples of what the industry is doing.”

Gcoyi said communication with members indicated underage usage was not currently a serious problem.

“We want to educate consumers on the importance of having the choice to use less-harmful alternatives to cigarettes, educate retailers and parents on the importance of preventing young people from accessing these products that are harmful to their development, and educate the larger public about why these products exist.”

The Independent on Saturday

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