Canadian journalist and development officer at ‘Students for Liberty,’ Yaël Ossowski, cites international examples of where the plain packaging of cigarettes, while seeming to work initially, failed dismally in reducing harmful tobacco consumption. In an analysis that leans towards the unproven alternative harm reduction tool of e-cigarettes and vaping, it’s a cautionary tale of where politicians often mistakenly intervene on public health issues before the data are strong enough. One could argue that waiting for absolute proof is short-sighted when lung cancer stats are rising annually. However, it’s about choosing your most effective weapon, and plain packaging doesn’t seem to be it. In South Africa, the e-cigarette debate rages healthily. Can a rechargeable battery, linked to an atomiser and cartridge of liquid nicotine, “massively reduce” individual and population risks of traditional cigarette smoking? Yussuf Saloojee, Executive Director of SA’s National Council Against Smoking, says they don’t deliver enough nicotine to satisfy addicts, thus ruling them out as cigarette replacements. There’s also little regulatory control over their purity, potentially exposing users to chromium, acrolein and formaldehyde, he adds. Derek Yach, SA-born Executive Director of the Vitality Institute however cites Sweden’s experience with ‘snus’ (flavoured chewable tobacco) as proof-of-concept that disease risk can be reduced by using a different delivery system. He argues that failing to address nicotine delivery is like trying to reduce traffic fatalities while ignoring modifiable risks in automobiles themselves. Smokers smoke for the nicotine, but die from the smoke, he stresses. No less august a body than the Royal College of Physicians has called for harm reduction principles to be applied. It’s possible that simply banning cigarettes, as our Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi would dearly love to do, will be no more effective than The Prohibition was with alcohol in the USA. – Chris Bateman
By Yaël Ossowski*
However, once plain cigarette packs hit the shelves in 2013, smoking rates for the same age group went back up to 16 percent. Does that mean that not doing anything would have actually caused less people to smoke? At least in Australia, it’s not certain.
Across South Africa, thousands of mom and pop vape shops are popping up around urban centers, and there’s reason to think these devices could be more successful than legislation in getting smokers to quit.