/ 25 April 2022

Watch: Why is the tobacco industry comparing vaping to HIV treatment?

E-cigarettes are gaining popularity
Public health experts disagree with the vaping industry’s argument that imposing a sin tax will lead to a similar path of Aids denialism

South Africa will impose a sin tax on vaping products from 2023.

Proponents of vaping products say that this could have a deadly effect on smokers who can’t quit.


Because sin taxes make products more expensive, which means many smokers won’t be able to afford the devices.

Instead, they’ll keep using cigarettes, which are deadly.

If such a policy goes through, the vaping lobby says the government will be guilty of a human rights violation akin to Aids denialism.

What is Aids denialism? Between 1999 to 2008, the South African government largely denied that Aids was a disease caused by a virus called HIV. 

The government portrayed the anti-HIV drug AZT as poisonous and even claimed that it caused Aids. It was by then a proven antiretroviral treatment.

As a result, a third of a million people died unnecessarily. Most of these people used government facilities since antiretrovirals were available in the private sector.

Is taxing vapes just as bad? Public health experts, ethicists and lawyers say no.

First of all, the government didn’t have any treatment plans for HIV in the Aids denialism days.

For tobacco-related illnesses there are treatment strategies in the country’s plan to fight noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and lung cancer.

From that research they know that there are very few smokers in South Africa (only 6%) who can’t or won’t quit. It is therefore only 6% of smokers who will be affected if vapes become more expensive.

The authors found this isn’t enough to greenlight vaping for the entire population.

With HIV, not a single person who used the public sector could get treatment.

But the health advocates and the vaping industry agree on one thing: more must be done to support smokers who want to quit.

Advocates say legislative changes (such as a sin tax) don’t go far enough to support those who want to stop smoking.

With HIV the only form of treatment available was antiretrovirals – and it wasn’t available.

If you wanted to quit smoking, there are many options you could try that don’t use e-cigarettes.

●  Nicotine patches

●  Nicotine replacement therapy●  Cessation clinics