Retailers of e-cigarettes 'breaking law'
Electronic or e-cigarettes may only be sold in pharmacies, but retailers and manufacturers are breaking this law, saying they interpret it differently.
According to Medicines Control Council regulations enacted last year, nicotine - the active ingredient in e-cigarettes - is either a Schedule2 or a Schedule3 drug.
Scheduled substances can be sold only in pharmacies.
A council source said, however, that the threat of lawsuits from e-cigarette manufacturers was the reason for its failure to enforce its regulations.
According to Vitality Institute director Professor Derek Yach, global sales of e-cigarettes in 2012 amounted to $1-billion (more than R10-billion).
Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated inhalers that deliver nicotine in vapour form.
Health Ministry spokesman Joe Maila yesterday confirmed that nicotine was a scheduled drug under the Medicines and Related Substance Act.
"E-cigarettes therefore need to be prescribed by a doctor and bought with a prescription.
"The Medicines Control Act covers nicotine as a Schedule 3 drug, hence e-cigarettes, by law, should not be sold over the counter."
The council's regulations state: "Nicotine, when intended for human medicinal use as an aid to smoking cessation, or as a substitute for a tobacco product, is Schedule 3."
But e-cigarettes are freely available over the counter at Twisp kiosks in malls, at garage shops and at Clicks stores.
Twisp says it interprets the act as applying only to the use of electronic cigarettes as a medicine, not when they are for recreational use.
Company director Nathan Smith said Twisp was not breaking the law.
"Any interpretation of the schedules to regulate the use and sale of Twisp electronic cigarettes and liquid refills is not covered by the authority granted to the Medicines Control Council and the minister of health."
Clicks agrees. Susann Caminada, spokesman for Clicks, said: "As the product does not make any medicinal or health claims, and is not marketed to aid in smoking cessation, it does not fall under the ambit of the act, therefore allowing sales in the front shop."
The council failed to respond to inquiries as to why it does not enforce its regulation.
The US Food and Drug Administration is trying to regulate e-cigarettes on the grounds that there are not enough data to prove that they are safe.
E-Cigs: Miracle or a menace
Doctors and professors from across the globe have written to the World Health Organisation on e-cigarettes.
In May, 53 doctors, including a South African, asked the WHO to consider e-cigarettes as "the most significant health innovation of the 21st century - perhaps saving hundreds of millions of lives".
The doctors added: "The urge to control and suppress [ e-cigarettes] as tobacco products should be resisted."
But 129 leading professors wrote to the WHO last week claiming e-cigarettes glamorised smoking by introducing flavours like kiwi fruit and cherry .
They said gains made against smoking in recent decades would be lost if e-cigarettes became popular.
Wits Public Health Professor Sharon Fonn said: "We do not know that they are not harmful. They do emit toxins."