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Vaping advocates fight for recognition: Bill fails to differentiate harm reduction from smoking

While smoking remains a highly harmful and addictive habit, evidence suggests that vaping poses significantly fewer risks. Picture by A B E D K A Y A L I /Unsplash

While smoking remains a highly harmful and addictive habit, evidence suggests that vaping poses significantly fewer risks. Picture by A B E D K A Y A L I /Unsplash

Published Jul 14, 2023


South Africa is home to 11 million tobacco smokers, with 41% attempting to quit in the past 12 months. Studies show that most people who smoke relapse within eight days after a quit attempt and only 3%-5% of self-quitters are still smoke-free a year later.

For many smokers who had successfully quit, it took up to 30 tries before they eventually did. Furthermore, research shows that vaping is eight times more effective in helping smokers quit and twice as effective as nicotine replacement products like patches and gum.

In terms of scientific evidence, several studies and reviews have compared the risks of smoking and vaping. According to the UK Office for Health Improvement and Disparities' review, smoking is at least 20 times more harmful than vaping.

The review also states that vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks associated with smoking.

The main reason why many people turn to vaping is to quit or cut down on traditional tobacco. A survey conducted as part of the Tobacco Harm Reduction Scholarship Programme found that 41% of vapers started using e-cigarettes for this purpose. Additionally, 30% of participants indicated that they wanted a safer alternative to smoking.

It is worth noting that vaping is not without risks. There have been cases of severe lung injury associated with vaping, particularly when using illicit or contaminated products.

However, such cases are rare, and most of the reported harms have been linked to the use of black market or homemade substances, rather than regulated vaping products.

The debate around vaping and its regulation is ongoing. Advocates argue that vaping can play a crucial role in harm reduction and smoking cessation efforts. They believe that regulating vaping based on its harm profile, rather than applying blanket restrictions, would be a more sensible approach.

However, critics express concerns about the long-term health effects of vaping and argue for stricter regulations to protect public health.

The Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems and Control Bill currently before Parliament, has raised concerns among tobacconists and vaping stores. Industry representatives argue that the government should regulate products based on their harm profile rather than applying a blanket approach.

Vaping advocates, such as, Kurt Yeo, from Vaping Saved My Life (VSML), emphasise that vaping is an effective tool for smokers to quit and is 95% less harmful than traditional tobacco.

Yeo criticizes the lack of consultation with health departments of countries that support vaping as a harm reduction alternative.

He also highlights how the bill treats vapers as second-class citizens and imposes restrictions on their lives.

Yeo encourages smokers, vapers, and stakeholders to voice their concerns about the bill before the deadline of 4 August.

Additional facts reveal the high number of smokers in South Africa and the effectiveness of vaping in quitting smoking, compared to other methods. Studies also indicate that vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking.

“Smokers looking to quit and vapers afraid of reverting to smoking just want the freedom to make better choices, but this new legislation treats vaping the same as smoking. I encourage all smokers, vapers and stakeholders to speak up and have their concerns about the Bill heard,” said Yeo.

While smoking remains a highly harmful and addictive habit, evidence suggests that vaping poses significantly fewer risks.

Vaping has been found to be more effective than other smoking cessation methods, such as nicotine replacement products. Nevertheless, more research is still needed to fully understand the long-term health effects of vaping.

In the meantime, it is crucial to strike a balance between supporting harm reduction options and implementing appropriate regulations to ensure product safety and protect public health.