Tobacco Control Bill: Is Public Policy Engagement just a box-ticking exercise?
By Benji Wright, Managing Director, New Lab Industries.
Why Proper Consultation Is Key To Better Policymaking And Regulations.
On World No-Tobacco Day, 31 May, the Department of Health gave a briefing to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill.
The briefing addressed key sections of the Bill, including banning flavoured electronic nicotine delivery systems/electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENDS/ENNDS), converting to plain packaging, and banning marketing and advertising and promotional displays. In June, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee opened submissions for comments on the Bill from the public — a democratic process that’s important to ensure the right regulations are passed.
Yet… the process for the Tobacco Control Bill is fundamentally flawed.
As a stakeholder in the vapour products industry who has reviewed the Bill and the briefing presented to the Portfolio Committee, I strongly believe that enough information wasn't provided to help the Committee understand the market, the products and the benefits they bring. While there has been engagement with the industry by the Department of Health, much of it simply seems to be going through the paces and ticking off the boxes of research, drafts, public commentary and so forth.
Globally, there is a substantial amount of evidence-backed research from reputable institutions such as the United Kingdom's Department of Health and Social Care and the Royal College of Physicians and New Zealand's Ministry of Health. The majority of this research supports vaping as a harm-reduced alternative to tobacco products that pose fewer risks and have the potential to save thousands, if not millions, of lives. Earlier this year, leading non-profit research organisation Cochrane published a study of strong evidence that suggests vaping is not harmful and is more likely to increase the chances of someone quitting smoking than traditional nicotine-replacement therapies (NRTs), such as gum, patches, inhalers, sprays or lozenges.
Unfortunately, the South African Department of Health nitpicks which research to include and, in the instance of the vapour products industry, it tends to be the percentage that points to minor concentrations of metal or other ingredients found in e-liquid without taking into account that the much higher concentrations of these ingredients are found in cigarettes. The biggest takeaway here is that the government does not understand the concept of harm reduction — and they are not open to understanding it or how it can be beneficial to helping smokers quit harmful tobacco products.
With all the research that has been done, and that is continuing to be published, we can't afford to sit back. How many more people have to die from diseases caused by tobacco harm when there’s a window of opportunity to save a lot of lives through vapour products? For the short- to medium-term, there is evidence that vaping will not cause the same damage as smoking and we should use this information to help those who are seeking harm-reduced alternatives and who wish to stop smoking.
It is imperative that government opens itself up to engage better with the industry and the public — smokers, vapers and concerned citizens. If they are willing to listen to the industry and willing to understand the products, we will be able to create better regulations that have the potential to serve millions of people. As a start, I’d like to encourage you, the reader, to read the summaries of the Tobacco Control Bill and submit your own comments at vpasa.org.za. By doing so, you are contributing to the democratic process of public policy and encouraging better policymaking.
Benji Wright is the Managing Director at New Lab Industries, a co-packing and manufacturer of e-liquid products, and Vapour Mountain, New Lab Industries’ in-house e-liquid brand. To make a submission on the proposed Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill, visit vpasa.org.za.