The local draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill was making headlines again this week. As it's implementation nears we're likely to see a fair bit more around this controversial bill. Here we go...
SA's proposed new tobacco and vaping bill
The Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill is currently with the Department of Health after which it will be set before Cabinet for discussion before it is tabled in Parliament.
Whilst this is a much needed bill, it is said to be overreaching and is being criticized for grouping together smoking and vaping with regards to regulation.
The vaping industry needs to be regulated - it is essential that our industry is both recognized and controlled in such a way as to provide adult users with a safer alternative to smoking. As adults, we have the right to use things that are not necessarily healthy, such as alcohol, as long as our use of these things do not negatively affect others.
Alcohol provides a very interesting comparison: it is addictive, has known health implications and is responsible for many negative social behaviours such as violence and road accidents. Vaping on the other hand is only known to be addictive - it's long term health effects are unknown due to the relatively short existence of the technology. There is currently very little negative social impact linked to vaping.
Given this, why is alcohol not treated similarly, or even more strictly, than the proposed vaping regulations?
The answer usually comes down to money, in one way or another. In a country where we have a high tax shortfall, removing (or even heavily restricting) existing products that add to the tax income of the state could be devastating to the economy - not that much help is needed in that regard, but I digress.
That's the way the world works, and we all (mostly) accept it. Governments job is to inform us of the risks of using products and, as adults, we get to choose whether or not to use them - it's not a perfect system but it allows us our (small) freedoms.
Other products, such as cannabis, is deemed "too harmful" by governments and are banned outright. Yet now, decades later, there is a "reversal" of these laws - did these products suddenly become less harmful? No, of course not, but governments often base their decisions on public opinion or inaccurate/subjective information, not scientific facts.
Circling back to vaping, the current state of research around vaping is mostly positive - if you ignore the various biased or flawed studies that aim to prove vaping as bad, instead of remaining objective. The long term effects are unknown, but it is all but guaranteed to be less harmful than smoking.
Given that information, you would imagine the governments of the world would jump at the opportunity to embrace a healthier alternative to smoking - and some countries, like the UK, are doing exactly that. But most countries, such as South Africa, seem to be leaning in the other direction.
Now, smoking has a long and sordid past. The tobacco companies of the world have lied, cheated, and committed various heinous acts to further their business objectives - this is undeniable. The problem is, vaping did not originate with tobacco companies - in fact, in the early days the tobacco companies were the biggest opposition to vaping. Vaping started, and thrived, with normal people - often ex-smokers who were finally able to break free form the grip of tobacco.
Fast forward a few years, and suddenly the multi-billion dollar vaping industry seems very appealing to big tobacco and they are buying into it. This is something that should not have been allowed - we do not need, nor do we want, that kind of association.
But money talks, and here we are - vaping now has big tobacco backing it - for better or, more likely, worse.
Where do we go from here?
That's the tricky part, and the proposed bill (in it's original state) seems to be heading in the wrong direction. Vaping is not smoking - even with it's similarities. The one was made to provide a healthier alternative to the other. If they are now treated as equals we gain nothing - everybody loses.
A lot of effort went into providing useful information about vaping during the public commentary phase of the newly proposed bill. All we can do now is wait, and hope that some form of rational thought informs the changes made to the final bill before it gets presented to parliament.
Below are some of the local articles surrounding the discussion of the new proposed bill, and vaping in general.
I will not be covering any other news from the last week - below are some links to these for those interested in reading more.