OPINION | Allowing exceptions for vaping at this time: a difficult, but necessary decision

Consumers who are addicted to nicotine are more likely to revert to smoking at this time rather than quit their nicotine addiction altogether.
For some, this may be a temporary decision pending a return to normalcy by the end of April, writes 
Kurt Yeo.

The closure of vaping shops by the government as part of the National State of Disaster Lockdown to help curb the
spread of the coronavirus in the country came as no surprise to members of the vaping community.

While expected, the lockdown has brought with it difficulties for the growing vaping community which is
increasingly finding it difficult to procure vaping products, such as e-liquids and parts for their devices and,
as such, have been left in a lurch.

As many readers are aware, nicotine addiction is one of the most difficult habits to break.

Evidence for this abounds in the number of smokers who have tried to quit countless times with no success.

Previously and presently, anti-nicotine advocates have always advocated that addicts either go cold turkey or try any number of nicotine replacement therapies such as gum, patches and sprays to lessen the withdrawal symptoms that accompany attempts at quitting smoking.

Though there have been some successes in South Africa, the rate of smoking is still dangerously high, a fact not helped by the availability of illicit and counterfeit products in the market.

The advent of vaping in 2007 and its growing popularity has offered a new lifeline to nicotine addicts who have switched from smoking to vaping.

Public Health England has found vaping to have a higher success rate in driving quit behaviour amongst tobacco consumers.

The Tobacco Advisory Group of The Royal College of Physicians, though, argues that there is still a high incidence of dual users i.e. vaping smoking, the trend generally tends towards quitting over a longer-term period of use.

This trend is especially apparent in the UK, where over 1.9 million smokers have switched from smoking to vaping.

Health authorities in that country have generally taken a permissive attitude towards vaping, contrasting the hazard profile of vaping to that of smoking, which is commonly accepted as the only product likely to kill half of its users over a long period of time.

Cancer Research UK and Public Health England have been at the forefront of calling for government authorities to take a more lenient regulatory approach to vaping products in recognition of the reduced harm profile of these devices.

Public Health England has also gone as far as to claim that vaping could be 95% less harmful than traditional combustible tobacco.

For this reason, a ban on vaping during this stressful Covid-19 lockdown period is a difficult decision to fathom.

For one, this makes the decision of staying off tobacco an entirely cumbersome journey as illicit tobacco is more readily available than vaping at this point in time.

Consumers who are addicted to nicotine are more likely to revert to smoking at this time rather than quit their nicotine addiction altogether. For some, this may be a temporary decision pending a return to normalcy by the end of April.

For others, it is a decision which will be difficult to reverse even after the lockdown has been lifted.

For this reason, the vaping community in South Africa has mobilised a (so far) 18 520-plus signature petition to ask that government allow some exceptions for vaping products to be sold during the lockdown.

While a popular suggestion is that this could take the form of online trading, which will support the lockdown requirement for physical distancing and prevent people from gathering in one place, the government is urged to allow vapers to purchase their vaping products at pharmacies and supermarkets with their essential goods, and for specialised vape shops to operate during this period, as supermarkets only stock a limited range of products whereas vapers can access a variety of nicotine and non-nicotine products at these specialised shops.

This, we believe, will go a long way towards supporting efforts to wean smokers off tobacco towards less harmful alternatives.

Lifting the restrictions on vaping may be a difficult decision. However, it is a sensible one.

– Kurt Yeo is a former smoker and vaping advocate. He writes in his personal capacity.