Regulatory loopholes around the sale of tobacco products need to be stringently regulated to protect young people being targeted by the industry. The partially published Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS-SA) shows that young people are the most targeted by old and new tobacco products. 

Dr Catherine Egbe, the Principal Investigator for the GATS-SA survey said the average age of smoking initiation locally is 17,6 years. About 74% of adult smokers started as teenagers. And 18% started smoking before 15 years old, while  43% started by the time they were 16.

‘Young people are the targets’ 

“We know that many people using drugs today first got hooked on nicotine, so any regulatory gap is costly to the country.,” said Egbe.

She said it raises the question of why there are so many underage smokers when, legally, you have to be over 18 years old to buy tobacco products.

“How come the average age is 17,6 years?. Because a lot is happening in some regulatory loopholes that need to be plugged to protect young people”.

Egbe commented during a webinar on tobacco control hosted by the National Department of Health. The department has tabled a new proposed tobacco products and the electronic delivery system control bill that will drastically change smoking laws in South Africa.

The regulations include completely banning smoking indoors and in some outdoor venues. Plain packaging with graphic health warnings is also on the cards.

Egbe said young people need all the information available about the impact of smoking products because most become smokers without fully understanding the dangers. 

“We need to make sure that the law is strong and is focused on protecting children. New products entering the South African market, and the use of these is increasing. Hence new products not covered by the current law need to be brought under the regulatory framework of tobacco control,” said Egbe.

Spaza shop’s biggest culprits

Egbe said most young people are accessing tobacco products mostly at spaza shops. 

“Most within the 15-24 years age bracket, our lowest age group, is buying from spaza shops. Something has to be done,” said Egbe. 

According to the World Health Organisation, tobacco kills up to half its users. As it kills more than 8 million people each year, and more than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to secondhand smoke. – Health-e News