Entertainment platforms are being used to recruit South African Youth into new Addiction

On 4 February 2023, CottonFest held its fourth edition event that brings together urban music and fashion. The festival was established in 2019 by the late rapper and fashionista Riky Rick. Bringing together established and emerging local talent to perform live on stage. To keep the crowd entertained, the festival frequently includes a mix of lifestyle elements, such as The Tuckshop — Retail Fashion Store; Unconventional Sports Area — Live Skateboard Competition; University Cafeteria — Food Court; Customisation Station; Half-court Basketball Court; and Live Art Installation.

Similar to the live streaming event that was associated with the launch of Vuse Inspired Live, One of the most notable aspects of the CottonFest event was the presence of stalls promoting and selling BAT’s Vuse e-cigarette product to young people. A thorough check led us to identifying Vuse as one of the sponsors of the event. We also noticed that not only did the Vuse stall sell e-cigarettes, but it also had youths selling conventional tobacco cigarettes next to the Vuse stalls. E-cigarette products were introduced in South Africa under the guise that they will help smokers quit but contrary to this, as evident by the sales of cigarettes next to e-cigarettes, is that tobacco companies in South Africa may be on a mission to attract a new generation of customers to cigarette smoking and they could be using these novel products as a gateway. This development could be harmful to public health especially since evidence from South Africa suggest that e-cigarettes are not helping smokers stay quit in the long term .

Transnational tobacco companies (TTCs) have developed interests in newer nicotine and tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes (also known as electronic delivery systems, or ENDS), heated tobacco products (HTPs), snus, and nicotine pouches, since the early 2000s. Although terminology changed over time, companies have referred to these types of products as “next-generation products” (NGPs). These products are also frequently referred to by the industry as “reduced risk” or “modified risk” products and are frequently associated publicly with tobacco companies’ harm reduction initiatives. Since their long-term safety has not yet been established, e-cigarettes raise the possibility that they could be a gateway to nicotine addiction and could be associated with new health risks.

In British American Tobacco’s 2018 sustainability report, BAT claims that there is a “growing scientific consensus” on the topic, which is somewhat misleading as evidence remains equivocal. Yet, BAT says “There is a growing consensus among public health bodies and academics that vapour products e-cigarettes can have a significantly reduced risk profile compared to smoking. Public Health England in the UK estimates these products are ‘95% less harmful than smoking’… Other third-party science and research supporting the significantly reduced-risk potential of vapour products continue to grow”. It is pertinent to note that in BAT’s investor presentations, cigarettes are also portrayed as central to the tobacco business and the main driver of growth.

All tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of cigarettes and other traditional tobacco products on some media is prohibited in South Africa. Since e-cigarettes were first brought to the South African market roughly ten years ago, they have not been subject to the same regulations as tobacco products. As a result, e-cigarettes have been advertised through various channels in South Africa, including on television (TV), in malls, on the radio, on social media, and online.

South Africa’s most recently proposed tobacco control legislation – The Control of Tobacco would rightly change how e-cigarettes are advertised, including subjecting e-cigarettes to advertising restrictions on media already prohibited for tobacco products, including radio, TV, print media, and the internet

Given the popularity of e-cigarettes in South Africa, it is clear that the tobacco industry is engaged in recruiting youths into new addition and there is a need for regulation to remove e-cigarette advertising from youth-oriented media and protect our next generation.