Picture: 123RF/Oleg Gavrilov
Picture: 123RF/Oleg Gavrilov

Local public health researchers have called on the government to revive legislation intended to regulate e-cigarettes, saying they are being heavily marketed to young people as a means to stop smoking, but don’t help people kick the habit for good.

The Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill was approved by cabinet and released for public comment in 2018, but has yet to be submitted to parliament. As a result, e-cigarettes and other nicotine delivery devices remain outside the regulatory fold.

Local evidence was vital to counter claims made by the e-cigarette industry, said Lekan Ayo-Yusuf, director of the Africa Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research at the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University.

Presenting a body of recent research on e-cigarette use in SA, he said more than 95% of e-cigarette users continued to smoke and few of them  managed to stop smoking for more than six months. Compared to people who had never used e-cigarettes, the likelihood of kicking the smoking habit for 6-12 months was 77% lower among regular e-cigarette users. The research on e-cigarettes and smoking cessation in SA has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“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 Ayo-Yusuf.

The studies were jointly conducted by the Africa Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research, the University of Pretoria, and the SA Medical Research Council (MRC).

A finding from one of the prevalence studies was that 2.71% of adults, or 1.09-million people, used e-cigarettes daily or occasionally during 2018. Almost all of these people (97.5%) were regularly smoking cigarettes as well. A separate study on the location of 240 vape shops, published in the journal Health & Place, found they were clustered in the wealthier parts of urban centres, and two thirds were within a 20km radius of a university or college campus.

“We found that living near a vape shop was associated with using an e-cigarette in the past or now,” said Israel Agaku of the University of Pretoria. “These important findings justify the regulation of lifestyle advertising targeted at the youth and the limitation of access to these products by children.”

A study published in the journal of Tobacco Induced Diseases found e-cigarettes were much more expensive than conventional cigarettes over a year, and implementing an excise tax on e-cigarettes at 75% of the rate applied to cigarettes could generate annual revenue of up to R2.2bn. The annual cost associated with daily smoking was R6,693, compared to between R8,575 and R19,781 for e-cigarettes, said study co-author Agaku.

E-cigarettes have been available in SA for more than 10 years, but are not now taxed.

The Treasury said last week that it planned to release a discussion paper on tax proposals for electronic nicotine devices.

Taxing these products would push up the retail price, help deter young people from taking up the habit, and provide additional revenue to cover the health and economic harms they caused, said Catherine Egbe of the SA Medical Research Council.

The health department’s chief director for health promotion and nutrition Lynn Moeng had not responded to Business Day’s request for comment at the time of going to press.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za

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