What is the Law on E-Cigarettes in South Africa?

For a while there, it seemed as though smoking was going the way of the dinosaur. The number of smokers was dropping almost uniformly across the world as each new generation seemed less and less inclined to pick up the habit. Recently, however, it’s common to see people (especially teenagers) puffing out smoke like small, angsty chimneys. This new development can mostly be attributed to a new fad – vaping. More and more South Africans are putting down the cigarettes and picking their flashy new counterparts. But is this legal? What is the Law on E-Cigarettes in South Africa?

Yes, e-cigarettes are legal in South Africa and, thanks to a kind of legal loophole, they are largely unregulated, quite unlike their tobacco-based cousins. This loophole arises from one of the vape pens’ chief selling points – they aren’t cigarettes.

Vape pens, or e-cigarettes, are typically referred to as Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), although some are nicotine-free and can simply be called Electronic Vapour Products (EVPs). Regardless of what you call them, these terms have something in common – they don’t mention tobacco.

What is the Law on E-Cigarettes in South Africa?
What is the Law on E-Cigarettes in South Africa?

This is where the law runs into a problem with regulating vaping. E-cigarettes don’t really fall under the jurisdiction of the Tobacco Products Control Act, as such, the usual rules which we apply to smoking aren’t technically valid when it comes to vaping. 

Simply put, many illegal actions that we associate with smoking are legal when applied to vaping, not necessarily because they have been deemed acceptable via regulation, but rather because the law hasn’t really considered them at all.

With all this in mind, let’s consider some of these unregulated aspects of vaping.

Can I Vape in Public in South Africa?

Technically, vaping in public is legal in South Africa. That said, many public areas such as shopping centers and restaurants treat it similarly to regular smoking and may deny entrance to users. The best move would probably be to find out the vaping rules of the location you’re in before trying it out as it’s always better to act conscientiously towards those around you.

Current tobacco-related laws prohibit smoking in public areas. Smoking areas can be specially designated in places such as bars and restaurants but they cannot take up more than 25% of the venue.

What is the Age Restriction for Vaping in South Africa?

Once again, there are no specific regulations regarding e-cigarettes and thus there are no definitive age restrictions. It should be noted, however, that certain retailers of e-cigarettes have taken it upon themselves to voluntarily refuse service to underaged individuals.

The jury is still out on the dangers of vaping for youngsters, but it is usually discouraged until more evidence has been gathered.

Can you Vape while Pregnant?

Regardless of the legality of the situation, vaping while pregnant is not advised. While most people would agree that e-cigarettes are far less damaging than regular ones, many vape pens still contain nicotine which is to be avoided during pregnancy.

Can you Vape while Pregnant?
Can you Vape while Pregnant?

Will Vaping be Regulated in South Africa?

Just because e-cigarettes are not currently regulated, that doesn’t mean they won’t be soon. There are currently bills being drafted and made available to public review. If such laws go into effect, fans of vaping could reasonably expect to be treated almost identically to regular smokers. This means potential regulations such as –

  • Harsher rules for vaping in public
  • Age restrictions
  • Taxes on vaping products resulting in higher pricing
  • A ban on vaping in a car that contains a person under the age of 18

These likely changes have been criticized by e-cigarette advocates who claim that scientific distinctions have not been properly made with regard to EVPs and ENDS. Their central argument is that certain EVP’s do not include either tobacco or nicotine and, as such, should not be regulated in the same way as other products.

They claim that these EVP’s are a less harmful alternative to regular cigarettes and should not be caught within the same legal framework.

Can E-Cigarettes Help You Quit Smoking?

It’s worth repeating that much of the science with regard to vaping is still in its preliminary stages and thus should be taken with a pinch of salt. That said, some studies have claimed that the use of e-cigarettes do help people quit smoking. On the other hand, there is some counter-evidence that seems to show that vaping only helps with short-term quitting but has less effect in the long-term.

What is the Law on E-Cigarettes in South Africa?
What is the Law on E-Cigarettes in South Africa?

Is Vaping Cheaper than Smoking?

If you speak to vaping enthusiasts, you’ll frequently hear the claim that vaping is not only safer than regular cigarettes but, over time, is also cheaper.

Recently though, a research paper from Tobacco Induced Diseases concluded that vaping is actually a more costly habit. This is especially worrying considering that, as of yet, vaping products are not taxed in South Africa.

All this is to say that, if the aforementioned regulations go into effect and vaping products are subjected to taxes in a similar way to tobacco products, the cost of vaping could rise even higher, potentially making it a far more expensive alternative to smoking.

Can you Buy Vape Products Online?

Yes, you can. There are many digital outlets available that specialize in the sale of e-cigarettes and their refills. Currently, it’s perfectly legal to purchase these products via online stores and retailers.

Is Vaping Expensive in South Africa?

There are many different brands of vape products available for purchase throughout the country. Depending on your choice, an e-cigarette could cost you anywhere between a few hundred bucks to well over a thousand. Not too bad, right?

Well, keep in mind that you’ll need a constant resupply of vape juice which normally runs between R200 – R300.

All in all, vaping (especially frequent vaping) can end up being a pretty expensive venture. 

Is Vaping Cheaper than Smoking?
Is Vaping Cheaper than Smoking?

In Conclusion – What are the Rules on Vaping in South Africa and will they Change?

At the time of writing, vaping and vape products find themselves in an interesting legal void that results in very little direct regulation. Due to the fact that most vape products do not contain tobacco, they have not been placed under the rulings of the Tobacco Products Control Act (at least, not yet), as such, many restrictions to vaping are currently up to the discretion of the individual.

The country has yet to specify where vaping is and is not allowed, who can vape and who can purchase vaping products. Simply put, vaping and all related practices are usually viewed as legal until legislated. That said, restaurant and pub owners are within their rights to prohibit vaping in their establishments. Likewise, certain retailers of e-cigarettes and related paraphernalia have taken it upon themselves to refuse service to underaged customers.

There are also many questions with regard to the safety, cost and efficacy of vaping products when compared with regular cigarettes but, because the trend is still so novel, much of the scientific data is still being debated.

What is the Law on E-Cigarettes in South Africa?
What is the Law on E-Cigarettes in South Africa?

Early studies do seem to suggest that e-cigarettes which do not contain nicotine are, on average, probably safer than normal cigarettes. They are, however, usually more expensive which may become even more noticeable when they are eventually subjected to standard taxes.

Many of these preliminary research papers have also suggested that vaping does help smokers quit regular tobacco cigarettes, however, some dissenters argue that this effect is only temporary and, in the long-term, the effects are limited.

It is currently legal to buy vape products online and there are many different digital retailers that are available to consumers. It should be noted, however, that there are various brands to choose from and the decision could strongly affect the pricing of the product.

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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