Will taxing the sale of e-cigarettes and other vaping products deter people from using them? The short answer is probably not.
Government is treading hot on the heels of the vaping industry with the proposed Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (Ends) Bill in the works.
But, many users say the tax, if eventually implemented, will still not deter them from using vape products.
The bill, introduced for public comment in 2018, is still in draft form and will need to undergo a full parliamentary process before being introduced.
With products lately becoming more affordable, the trend is fast-growing locally. You can now pick up a reputed device and a two-pack of the liquid nicotine-containing solution for around R200.
Several people who spoke to Weekend Witness claimed vaping or e-cigarettes helped them kick the tobacco smoking habit and said taxing these products would be no different to the tax applied to conventional tobacco products.
Nick Naidoo was a cigarette smoker for almost 20 years, until he bought a device on a whim in early January.
“I had always wanted to quit smoking, I started young and it was because at that time smoking was cool. Over the years I tried many times to stop but it never took.”
He said a few people he knew had started using the device so he thought he would give it a try.
“It cost me R200 for a device and two pods. The day I got it I smoked maybe three or four cigarettes, down from a pack a day. Within two days, I was down to one in the mornings and a week in I just stopped smoking cigarettes. I actually still can’t believe it,” said Naidoo.
It has been more than a month and Naidoo said, he wouldn’t pick up a cigarette again.
“I know at least five people who have been long-time smokers who quit just like this. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s the vape or maybe mind over matter, but it worked for me. We paid tax on cigarettes all along so this wouldn’t be any different,” he added.
Naidoo said while he only saves about R120 a week buying the device refills (R100 for two) instead of cigarettes, the changes to how he feels physically are worth it.
“I can smell better, I can taste better, I feel less weighed down and the smokers cough is gone. I don’t have to keep going out of places to have a cigarette and I don’t crave them. I don’t have bad breath and I don’t even use my device as often as I would smoke,” he said.
Another user, Sue Bhanan said she also used the device to quit smoking.
“I didn’t get it to quit, I thought it was interesting when I came across it in a shop. But eventually it was easier to use the vape than to go through the work of lighting up a cigarette. I suppose it was me being lazy that made me stop smoking, but also this does have nicotine so I think it satisfies the craving,” she said.
In December, the National Treasury published a discussion paper titled Taxation of Electronic Nicotine and Non-Nicotine Delivery Systems, detailing a proposal to apply an excise tax on these devices.
The tax is aimed to be a deterrent to people from buying products that may pose a risk to their health or the environment, similar to the current excise taxes on fuel, tobacco, alcohol, cooldrinks, electronics, cars and cosmetics.
National Treasury said in the paper that vapes and e-cigarettes are part of a new generation of products that have been introduced in the market either as harm reduction or reduced-risk products compared to traditional tobacco products.
“These products are battery-powered devices that vaporise liquid solutions that may contain nicotine, as well as varying compositions of flavourings, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and other ingredients, to create an aerosol which the user inhales,” said the paper.
According to the National Treasury, while the market for these products is still young in many developing countries like South Africa, it is expected to grow.
“In other markets, the growth in the consumption of these products has been observed among the youth and has raised concerns on its impact on youth initiation of smoking and tobacco use,” it said.
According to National Treasury there are concerns on their potential to undermine global tobacco control efforts, and public health.
“Unlike conventional tobacco products, these products are mostly unregulated in South Africa, hence the Department of Health has also started a process of amending the current tobacco control legislation to include these products in the regulatory framework.
“Similarly, other governments around the world have started a process of regulating the consumption and use of Ends through tax and non-tax measures,” the paper said.
National Treasury said a tax could be introduced on both the device and the liquid solutions. In essence, this would mean products with a higher nicotine content would carry a higher tax.
Speaking on the health implications of vaping, some studies, including those conducted by the UK’s Royal College of Physicians and Public Health England, show that while not completely harmless, vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking.
However, since many still contain some percentage of nicotine, the risk of addiction still exists.
Speaking to Weekend Witness, a KZN physician explained that nicotine is a toxic chemical and is harmful to the human body.
“It can increase blood pressure, which raises the heart rate and increases the risk of a heart attack. It can also cause respiratory issues.” he said.
Regarding vaping and e-cigarettes, there are many unknown factors.
“We don’t actually know so much about vaping including what chemicals make up the vapour and how they affect physical health long term. I think it is key for users to understand that these devices still pose a health risk. You are basically exposing yourself to a different set of chemicals, like cigarettes do, but these ones we don’t fully understand yet.”