From 1 April 2023 sin taxes are going up! South African smokers will be paying 98c more for a pack of 20 cigarettes, 73c extra for heated tobacco products (HTPs), and an additional R5.47 on cigars. Not to mention the R1.10 and 33c increases on cigarette and pipe tobacco, respectively. Given the country’s cost-of-living crisis, not many will be able to afford the price hikes resulting from increased sin taxes.
This is according to Kurt Yeo, founder of consumer advocacy group Vaping Saved My Life (VSML). He points out that vaping is currently significantly cheaper – and less harmful – than traditional cigarettes. “By my estimations, it costs about R17 per day for a vaping device and e-liquid. A box of cigarettes typically fetches around R50. Few people seem to realise this, possibly due to the misconception that vaping products are expensive”
The objective of sin taxes
“While Government’s aim with the so-called sin taxes is to get smokers to either quit or cut down, it has been proven to drive those who are unable to afford legal cigarettes to purchase illegal cigarettes that are much, much lower in price,” he points out.
“The impact to the fiscus has been well documented and widely publicised. But what of the potential increased dangers to smokers forced to purchase illicit cigarettes due to their economic standing?” says Yeo.
“Make no mistake that smoking is possibly the most dangerous thing a person can do legally. However, given that illicit cigarettes are not regulated, this could mean that their ingredients are unknown and untested. They might contain harmful chemicals such as heavy metals, pesticides, and other toxins. They might also have higher levels of tar and nicotine than legally sold cigarettes. This makes them potentially more addictive and harmful to people’s health. Additionally, they could be produced in unregulated and unsanitary conditions. This can lead to poor quality control and result in them being contaminated with bacteria, mould, or other harmful substances. Smokers might be desperate and may not be fully aware of the risks they take when they go this route.”
Naturally, government and tobacco control advocates believe that more restrictions and higher prices are the best way to reduce smoking and non-communicable smoke-related diseases, but have they in the face of an unchecked illicit market? According to official government data, the smoking rate increased from 18.2% in 2012 to 25.8% in 2021. This represents a 41.8% jump, which saw an excise increase of 82% over the same period, R10.32 to R18.79 respectively. The only plausible explanation is the involvement of illicit cigarettes. According to various reports, they measure 54% to 70% of the market.
“Vaping, however, is not only 95% less harmful than tobacco smoking – legal or otherwise – but it has been scientifically proven to be the most effective method for smoking cessation,” he points out. “While vaping is not 100% harm-free, it eliminates the 7,000 toxic chemicals found in the smoke that is released from burning tobacco – the actual cause of almost all the deaths and disease that occur due to smoking. This is because vaping does not produce smoke. Rather, vaping devices heat a liquid into an aerosol. While there are some potentially harmful toxins present, this is at much lower levels than in cigarette smoke.”
Yeo explains that the reason why vaping has been found to be a successful smoking cessation tool is because it enables smokers to continue consuming nicotine, albeit in a safer way. “I smoked 40 cigarettes a day for 20 years. But it was the death of my father, a lifelong smoker, that made me seriously consider quitting. I tried several methods, but all my attempts failed. That is until I tried vaping.”
“For me, the number one reason why all my previous attempts failed is that I was constantly surrounded by smokers at work, with my family, and at social gatherings. With vaping though, I could still participate in these social interactions,” he shares. “Now, nine years later, I haven’t smoked a single cigarette.”
The Minister of Health recently introduced the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill into Parliament. It effectively lumps Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS, i.e., e-cigarettes and vapes) in the same category as smoking. This makes no sense, explains Yeo. To this end, VSML has launched a petition protesting the Bill’s categorisation of vaping as smoking products and the extreme measures to which it will subject vapers. “The petition implores Government and Parliament to consider the evidence that vapour and tobacco products are very different and should therefore be governed by different regulations. The vaping industry wants regulation for vaping. We just want it to be based on vaping’s inherent qualities and features. Not on preconceived perceptions about an entirely different product (i.e., cigarettes).”
“With vaping as an affordable option, South African smokers aren’t forced to engage in illegal activities that could cause significant harm to their health. But the only way that this will remain a choice for them is for the departments of Treasury and Health to recognise the science-backed value vaping can provide in helping to address the biggest burden on public health: smoking amongst adult South Africans,” concludes Yeo.
To sign the petition, go to https://vsml.co.za/vsml-petition.