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What you need to know about vaping  

Vaping has grown in popularity since being promoted as a healthier alternative to smoking. But how safe is it if organisations and government institutions are working to deter the e-cig?  

Vapes, or ‘e-cigarettes’, have become all the rage in the past few years, but they have actually been around for about 20 years now. Marketed as a healthier option than tobacco products, and as an alternate method of smoking for those trying to give up cigarettes, they are tar and carbon monoxide free. They are also said to have a positive effect on the health of asthma sufferers and ex-cigarette smokers who’ve switched over. Is this enough for it to be labelled as ‘good’, though? 

What’s the big deal? 

Essentially, a vape consists of a battery, a heating element and a compartment for liquid, which contains flavourants, other chemicals and often nicotine. When heated, the liquid produces an aerosol, which is inhaled. 

The vaping industry contends that this is safer than smoking tobacco, which has well-established adverse health effects, ranging from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to heart disease and cancer. It is also suggested that vaping has a good effect on health by helping smokers quit. 

However, vaping has become a habit among young adults and teens: from the moment vapers wake up to when they lay their head down to sleep, their AirPop or disposable VUSE (two of the most popular brands) remains at their side, ready and on-hand to puff. 

Many people smoke to keep their nerves at bay. It’s a coping mechanism. But, contrary to popular belief, vaping (and smoking) does not actually ‘calm’ or ease stress. In fact, addiction causes anxiety and stress, and according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, nicotine from vaping harms the brain and has been linked to mental health issues, including anxiety and depressive disorders. 

At present there are no laws governing vaping products in South Africa, nor is there a minimum age for buying them (unlike cigarettes). However, the Tobacco Products and Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems Control Bill is expected to regulate the products through applying smoking restrictions, regulating the nicotine contained in vapes and introducing a ban on online sales. In June 2023 a tax was imposed on e-liquid, which could double the consumer price of many vape products. 

Dr Sharon Nyatsanza, Deputy Director of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS), says the proposed Tobacco Control Bill does not intend to ban e-cigarettes. “By using a balanced regulatory approach, it ensures that adults can still access e-cigarettes while minimising the demand for e-cigarettes by children and adolescents.” 

The e-controversy 

Proponents of the Tobacco Control Bill, including the World Health Organisation, NCAS and the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), argue that the products are more harmful than helpful and must be urgently regulated; there is no standardisation or guarantee of the chemicals in the liquids, and the long-term health effects are unknown. 

It’s also argued that e-cigarettes entice young first-time users (who would not otherwise have tried cigarette smoking) as they are marketed in appealing colours, flavours and aromas, from strawberry to bubblegum and popcorn. 

According to a 2023 study by UCT’s Lung Institute, 26.5% of Grade 12 pupils at wealthier South African high schools, 17.4% of Grade 11s, 13% of Grade 10s and 10.8% of Grade 9s are vaping. Dr Nyatsanza also reports that the Global Adult Tobacco Survey of SA found that e-cigarettes are much more popular among 15–24 year olds. 

Prof Michael Herbst, Health Specialist at CANSA, adds that due to the addictive nature of the nicotine found in e-cigarettes and the steeper price, younger users may later turn to cigarettes. This can have adverse effects on their brain development: “They’re particularly harmful and addictive to those under age 25, as their brains are still developing, and nicotine can negatively affect development.” 

Kicking the habit 

Instead of switching over to vapes. cigarette smokers should quit by using a proven treatment, Prof Herbst says. “Our free online eKickButt programme helps with quitting through emails and downloads, and guides and mentors smokers as they quit. Counselling and medication can more than double the chance of a smoker succeeding in quitting.” 

The same information and process would help a vaper to quit. Visit for more information or call CANSA toll free on 0860 22 66 22 and request a counselling session –available in seven languages. 

The NCAS also hosts a Quitline on 011 720 3145, a number which is on every cigarette box, and smokers can also get help via the WhatsApp number: 072 766 4812. 

A pricey habit 

For 2024/25, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana proposed an increase on excise duties for vapes in line with expected inflation to R3.04 per millilitre. 


Text: Glynis Horning
Photo: Gallo/Getty Images