As vaping gains popularity in SA, doctors warn of its dangers

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Vaping, which refers to the use of e-cigarettes, is slowly becoming popular in South Africa. Initially marketed as an alternative for people who wanted to quit smoking cigarettes, it now appears to be growing into a socially-acceptable practice.

Medical professionals say vaping is just as dangerous as smoking cigarettes, and are warning against it.

Vape is a rechargeable electric or battery device which uses fruit-flavoured e-liquids, which are used for vaping. Users inhale smoke-looking vapour from the device.

Health hazards associated with the practice have resulted in its ban in countries like Brazil, USA and India.

Patricia das Neves from Mahikeng in the North West says she started vaping in 2017. This after some of her clients, who also quit smoking cigarettes, told her about the benefits of vaping. Das Neves says vaping helped her to quit smoking cigarettes.

“You’re 95% less likely to contract any lung diseases or any chronic illness that you would from traditional smoking. Fatigue, the smell of cigarettes; a lot of people get that yellowness on their fingers on their lips, which you do not get from vaping, as well as no second-hand smoke.”

But Professor Michael Herbst, who is with the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), has a different view. He has warned people to stay clear off e-cigarettes.

“Stay clear off e-cigarettes. We do know that it causes Pneumonitis and that has killed many people. We know that it contains nicotine which is addictive and if the people can’t maintain their addiction by buying e-cigarettes and the liquids for e-cigarettes; they will fall back on to tobacco. We’re back to square one with people smoking tobacco.”

Another smoking practice that appears to be popular is hookah, also known as “hub,” “shisha” or “Hubbly Bubbly.” This method uses ingredients such as flavoured tobacco, water, coal, and foil. Itumeleng Sothomela, who has been a user for over five years, says it helps him to stay away from cigarettes.

“It is much better than smoking a cigarette and all these things because the smoke is much better.”

Paediatric Pulmonologist Dr. Aneesa Venker says although, there is awareness in South Africa, more still needs to be done to make people aware of the dangers of vaping and smoking Hookah.

“There have been deaths from e-cigarettes, particularly in the UK and America. And often this has been related to Pneumonitis; chemical irritation of the lungs. There are also oils added which can form a sort of Oil Pneumonia in the lungs. And then, there’s been lots of hype of what’s been described as Pop-corn lungs. Basically, holes developing in the lungs from these additives added to the e-cigarettes or cape products. And then there have been studies showing that Hubblies have been associated with more oral-mouth cancer, cancers of the tongue.”

Asked about the intervention of the Health Department on vaping and smoking Hookah, provincial spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane referred to the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems Bill.

“The control of smoking generally when it comes to legislation is to ensure that public areas are protected, non-smokers are protected. We cannot force people who are smoking to stop smoking through legislation, but the interest is to stop them from having to force people who are smoking to have secondary smoking.”

The Department says everyone has the right to a healthy environment and that right must not be violated.