It’s still an occurrence that takes many by surprise: sitting in a restaurant and seeing a substantial puff of smoke rising from a nearby table and checking if you haven’t accidentally been seated in the designated smoking section. Of course, you soon come to the realisation that it is somebody using an e-cigarette, and while South Africa’s laws on smoking in public are crystal clear, the legal implications of vaping are still up in the air.

The popularity of e-cigarettes has skyrocketed in the country over the last few years, since it was billed as a “healthier” alternative to traditional cigarettes and great tool to help smokers quit altogether. Believed to have originally developed in China and introduced to the mainstream market in 2007, e-cigarettes are known as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) that emit doses of vaporised nicotine (a non-nicotine option is also available) that are then inhaled. Needless to say, there has also been a substantial dose of controversy surrounding e-cigarettes as healthier replacements for tobacco smokers, with the National Council Against Smoking stating that more research needs to be conducted around the benefits before they can endorse it.

So, how does this influence the laws around using an e-cigarette in public? Well, this is where things get a little unclear. Since e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco and aren’t technically traditional cigarettes, they cannot be evaluated as ‘tobacco products’ in term of South Africa’s Tobacco Control Act. Thus, the Department of Health is looking into making amendments to legislation in order to regulate e-cigarettes based on the fact that ENDS products resemble cigarettes and can be seen as normalising their use in public spaces.

Furthermore, the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, is moving towards implementing new legislation known as the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill that aims to introduce stricter rules when it comes to smoking in South Africa and to include vaping devices.

The proposed law also contains provisions that include:

  • Embellishment-free cigarette packaging
  • The complete abolition of the 25% reserved smoking areas in public
  • Harsher policies regarding the minimum legal distance smokers can smoke at public entrances.
  • The removal of cigarette vending machines.

Smokers could face hefty fines and up to 90 days in jail if the proposed law is passed and implemented.

But, back to e-cigarettes: The United States of America’s Food and Drug Administration recently laid out guidelines for e-cigarettes to be regarded as ‘tobacco products’, which means that e-cig users will have to adhere to the same strict tobacco smoking laws. It looks like it is only a matter of time before South Africa follows suit.

The Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill is open for public comments until the 9th of August 2018. But, whether or not the changes to the smoking laws will come into effect any time soon, is still unknown; but, until then, it’s best to adhere to the wishes of the owners of public spaces (malls, restaurants etc) and be wary of the influence that vaping could have around minors.

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