In recent years, vaping has emerged as a prominent global public health discussion topic. Characterised by the act of inhaling vapour produced by electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) or other vaping devices, it presents a modern alternative to traditional smoking. Vaping substances vary and can include nicotine, flavourings, and other chemicals. In South Africa, as in many countries, the trend has seen a significant upswing, particularly among the younger demographics, sparking considerable discussion among policymakers, health practitioners, and the general public.

As this trend gains momentum, our focus turns to examining why vaping is attractive to South Africans, particularly the youth, the current laws regulating its use, and the possible health effects. By looking into consumer insights, we can better understand the vaping trend and its effects on society.

The Rising Trend of Vaping

Vaping is rapidly gaining popularity in South Africa, tethered to a culture that portrays it as a possibly healthier and trendier alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes. There’s an active involvement of young people who are turning to this new smoking sensation, attracted by a variety of influencing factors.

Why South Africans Vape

To help understand why South Africans are gravitating towards vaping, we conducted a YourView poll investigating the key motivating factors:

  • Stress Relief – The highest percentage, 41.5% of people, use vaping as a way to relieve stress. This suggests that there is a need for alternative coping mechanisms to help younger people deal with the stress and anxiety they currently face.
  • Desire to quit or reduce smoking traditional cigarettes38.2% see vaping as a strategy to cut down or stop smoking.
  • Perception of a healthier smoking option36.6% feel that vaping may be less harmful than traditional smoking.
  • Trendiness or the ‘cool factor’ – The perception of vaping as being a cool or trendy activity appealed to 36.4%.
  • Availability and accessibility of vaping products – For 31.3%, ease of access has played a role.
  • Cost-effectiveness30.6% believe that vaping may be lighter on their wallets compared to traditional tobacco products.
  • Peer pressure/influence 26.4% of respondents cited this as a reason for vaping.
  • Influence of family members who vape – Family has had an effect on the habits of 22.8% of the respondents.
  • Advertising and marketing of vaping products – The power of marketing swayed 21.9% of our respondents.

These data points are instrumental in helping us to understand why vaping has become the preferred choice for many.

Youth and Vaping

Vaping Among the South African Youth

A recent study conducted by the University of Cape Town Lung Institute highlights a concerning trend: a significant number of South African learners are now vaping, with almost 7,000 reported cases. The study shows a discordant pattern across different school grades, with 26.5% of the learners in Grade 12 admitting to vaping. The percentages decline slightly in lower grades, reporting 17.4% in Grade 11, 13% in Grade 10, and 10.8% in Grade 9. These statistics point towards a growing inclination among the youth towards vaping, raising alarms about its potential health implications and the necessity for parental vigilance.

The rising popularity of vaping among adolescents in South Africa is a multifaceted issue, driven by many factors. According to Asanda Gcoyi, the chief executive of the Vapour Products Association of South Africa (VPASA), this trend may stem from peer pressure, the allure of trying new experiences, general social stress, and notably, the accessibility of vaping products through unofficial vendors and social networks. 

This growing trend highlights the urgent need for comprehensive research to fully comprehend the reasons behind underage vaping and to develop effective strategies to reduce its expansion.

The Stress-Vaping Connection in Kids

The study by the University of Cape Town Lung Institute revealed that stress is a key driver behind the rising trend of vaping among affluent South African youth. This highlights the role of stress, peer influence, and perceived societal acceptance in encouraging vaping among teenagers.

Key findings suggest that despite being from well-resourced backgrounds, these teenagers are turning to vaping as a misguided stress relief mechanism. Confirming this, our poll found that 41% of participants, including adults and youth, vape primarily to alleviate stress.

Additionally, sociocultural pressures, including peer acceptance and parental attitudes, further compound the issue. Some parents are even providing vaping devices to their children, mistakenly believing it to be a safer alternative to smoking or drug use.

The study spotlighted the need for stricter regulations on the sale and marketing of vaping products and emphasised the importance of educational campaigns to clear up myths around vaping. Addressing these factors is essential for curbing the growing trend of vaping among South Africa’s youth.

Vaping in Schools: Policies and Impacts

South Africa’s new vaping tax, intended to decrease vaping product demand, has sparked a debate among school authorities, parents, and students. The tax is critiqued for not effectively targeting young vape users, especially considering that many vaping products, like disposable vapes, appeal directly to youth.

Vaping in schools presents an ongoing issue, and items are marketed in flashy designs and flavours to attract young users. Despite age restrictions on sales, minors frequently obtain these products.

Views on vaping differ among stakeholders – school authorities balancing enforcing rules and accessibility of vapes, parents with varying awareness levels about vaping’s risks, and students who might see vaping as stress-relief or rebellion.

To curb vaping effectively, a comprehensive approach encompassing policy enforcement, education, and intervention is needed. The current tax initiative must be supported with targeted strategies to minimise vaping among school-aged children, considering not only immediate vaping rates but also future health implications.

Also read: The Struggles Faced By Young Adults In South Africa

The Legal Landscape of Vaping in South Africa

The regulations surrounding vaping in South Africa have undergone significant transformations, reflecting the government’s efforts to navigate the complex health and societal issues associated with vaping. Here’s a breakdown of the current legal state and how it compares with global standards.

Overview of the Current Vaping Laws in South Africa

The Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill

The cornerstone of South Africa’s vaping legislation is the newly proposed Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill. While still in the public comment phase, this comprehensive bill aims to tighten regulations around both tobacco products and vaping. Key proposals include:

  • Display Ban: A ban on the display of all tobacco and vaping products across retail channels, even in stores specialising in these products. This includes cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, vapes, hookah pipes, and heat-not-burn devices.

Tax Increases

Introduced on 1 June 2023, an excise-duty tax of R2.90/ml on nicotine and nicotine-substitute solutions marks an effort to financially disincentivise vaping. The tax impact varies by product type, affecting disposables the least and large e-liquid containers most significantly.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

Severe penalties are proposed for any infractions under the new bill. For example, displaying a single cigarette packet or vaping product could lead to a 10-year imprisonment and/or fine, a move that has sparked concern within the small business and vaping communities.

Comparison with Global Regulations

In contrast to South Africa’s ongoing regulatory adjustments, the UK is set to ban disposable vapes due to concerns over increasing usage among youth and environmental impact. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cited the unknown long-term health impacts and the addictiveness of nicotine as reasons for the upcoming regulations, which include plain packaging and restricted advertising, aiming for a smoke-free generation. This aligns with global trends, as countries like Australia and France take similar steps following WHO advice, highlighting a shift in some nations from viewing vaping as a tool to aid in quitting smoking to a public health concern.

In conclusion, while vaping has become a prevalent part of modern lifestyle choices, especially among young people, there’s much we still don’t quite understand about its long-term health impacts or its role in helping people quit smoking. 

These debates, particularly those ongoing in South Africa, highlight the pressing need for more effective education and regulation aimed at our younger generations.


YourView Consumer Panel: YourView is maintained and administered by KLA, which provides research services and insights to numerous South African companies, including blue chip clients in the financial services, telecommunications and FMCG industries.

Panel size: ~100 000-110 000

Data Collection: 2024/02/19 – 2024/03/20

Population: No quotas applied with a natural fall-out across demographics.

Question: What factors influenced your decision to start vaping or using e-cigarettes?

n – 579