Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

E-cigarettes the enemy of the health system – Motsoaledi

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi wants to outlaw e-cigarettes. “If it were up to me, I would outright ban electronic cigarettes and I will fight for it,” he told the Mail & Guardian. “If there is one industry I don’t sympathise with at all it’s the tobacco industry, for the simple reason there is nothing they have contributed to humanity except great damage.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), since 2005 the e-cigarette industry has grown from one manufacturer in China to a global business worth an estimated $3?billion with almost 500 different brands.

The huge increase in the market and the uncertainty over the health implications of using the products have been what the WHO calls “the subject of a public health dispute”, leading the global body to call for stronger regulation of these devices in a recent report.

‘We will not be fooled’
The WHO also highlights the tobacco industry as being one of the major players in the e-cigarette market and raises concerns about their economic power in the face of regulatory moves.

Motsoaledi pointed out that South Africa has had great success in tobacco control, initiated by the previous health minister, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Measures have included taxing tobacco products, limiting their use in public spaces and placing health warnings on packaging.

However, he said that “the tobacco industry sidestepped this and came up with the electronic cigarette. And now they are saying they fall outside the ambit of tobacco regulation because they are not tobacco. We are not going to be fooled.

“They are the absolute enemy of the health system. For instance, we will never get rid of tuberculosis as long as smoking is there. So why mustn’t we throw any punches back?”

Tobacco product or medication?
E-cigarettes are banned in a number of countries including Brazil, Singapore and Switzerland, according to Myra Wisotzky, technical adviser on tobacco control for the Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.

She said that e-cigarettes are treated as a tobacco product in countries such as France and Canada, whereas they remain unregulated in the United States, China and India.

Officially, South Africa regulates e-cigarettes as medicines, but experts say this is not enforced and that the products are widely available outside pharmacies.

If South Africa moves to regulate electronic cigarettes as tobacco products, they would be subject to the same taxes and restrictions on use.

“For now we want to regulate them in the same way we are regulating tobacco products,” Motsoaledi said.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and receive a 40% discount on our annual rate.

Bhekisisa team
Bhekisisa Team
Health features and news from across Africa by Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre.

Related stories


Subscribers only

Seven years’ radio silence for taxpayer-funded Rhythm FM

Almost R50-million of taxpayers’ money has been invested but the station is yet to broadcast a single show

Q&A Sessions: Zanele Mbuyisa — For the love of people-centred...

She’s worked on one of the biggest class-action cases in South Africa and she’s taken on Uber: Zanele Mbuyisa speaks to Athandiwe Saba about advocating for the underrepresented, getting ‘old’ and transformation in the law fraternity

More top stories

Limpopo teachers put fingers in primary schoolchildren’s underwear, SAHRC hears

The Human Rights Commission in Limpopo is hosting hearings into bullying, corporal punishment and the sexual abuse of learners by teachers in the province

‘We must not allow scavengers to eat the energy sector’

Mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe said the transition to renewable energy cannot be an overnight accomplishment.

Finding an HIV vaccine: Five lessons from the search for...

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that vaccine development and testing timelines can be shrunk from decades to months, but not without shortcomings

Pandemic leaves 1.4 billion learners worldwide behind on education

Human Rights Watch warns that learners may take years to recover from the damage caused by school closures

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…