Vaping, which is gaining popularity as a lifestyle trend and is an alternative to conventional smoking in what is an $80 million industry in South Africa, is not without its risks.
It has gathered steam over the last decade to become one of the most recognizable social gadgets. The mass appeal transcends age, culture and gender. From advances around Artificial Intelligence (AI) to medical explorations, handheld vaping devices have become one of the quintessential symbols of the digital era.
Vape stores have become a standard feature of every shopping precinct, whether large or small, in the upmarket areas of South Africa. The stores are as recognizable as retailers that have been around for decades and have etched themselves in the minds of consumers.
During its relatively short period in the space of consumer consumption, it has amassed polarizing views – primarily related to cost, exposure and health. Here are some of them:
Vaping to quit smoking
Various strategies have been used to market e-cigarettes, but none is more prevalent than the idea that they assist smokers to kick the habit.
Vapour Products Association of South Africa (VPASA) CEO Zodwa Velleman says electronic vaping has provided users an alternative that has been beneficial for their health as a result of quitting traditional cigarettes.
However, head of the Lung Clinical Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, Associate Professor Richard van Zyl-Smit, says the appeal of electronic vaping products (EVPs) is in the skewed manner in which it is marketed.
He says it appeals to the senses of those who weren’t smokers to begin with.
“The attraction should be for those who are smoking and can’t give up the habit, to switch to something that is potentially safer. However, what has occurred is that the marketing comes across as trendy and as something you should be doing. So, non-smokers, those who wouldn’t have started smoking, are getting involved with vaping and are seeing it as a safe activity.”
“The appeal should be from a tobacco perspective. [It should] not be appealing to the non-vaper [and] non-smoker,” Van Zyl-Smit says.
Velleman says she cannot dismiss the claim that there would be interest from individuals who were not previous smokers but this would be a small percentage compared to former smokers who have completely switched from traditional cigarettes to vaping.
She says a study conducted by global management consulting firm Canback Consulting found that, “the people who try e-cigarettes are less than 0.1% and that is not the bulk of the users. The bulk of the users are your historic traditional smokers. So, you can say that 99% [of EVP users] are people that were smokers”.
Executive Manager at Vape King in South Africa, Sharri Van Zyl, observes that those who initially take up vaping use it as a means, “to get off cigarettes and then adopt it as a lifestyle later on”.
Founded in 2012, Vape King is one of the few recognizable e-cigarette retailers in an industry that is currently worth R1.1 billion ($80.4 million) in South Africa. A majority of the vaping stores operating in South Africa are “moms and pops corner shops”, according to Velleman.
These are small shops that are owned and run by families who are not commercially recognizable brands, she says.
Van Zyl-Smit says the assertion that vaping leads to the quitting of traditional cigarettes, which contain carcinogens that cause cancer, is tenuous. He says he would not encourage smokers to take up vaping to quit cigarettes.
“When one looks at vaping as an option to quit smoking, the data is unfortunately very poor. It has helped some people. And certainly, if you look on the internet…there will be some people who tell you, ‘I smoked for 20 years and I quit. It’s the best thing ever’.
“One person, unfortunately, from a scientific point of view, does not make a study.
“It’s not to say they [e-cigarettes] won’t help an individual. But if we, as a community of people, who are looking after smokers, are saying, ‘what are the best options?’. Vaping is way down the list of best options to help you quit.”
While 32-year-old Kim Salinger (not her real name), who has been vaping for two years, says it helped her quit smoking, she says her initial plan was to “not smoke anything but I’m still vaping”.
“It makes me feel like it’s not such a bad habit. Also, now, is a habit that’s with me wherever I go.”
She says she eventually intends to quit.
This may prove to be challenging because of the physical and psychological effects EVPs have on the body, Van Zyl-Smit says.
“There’s no question that vaping is addictive. Both tobacco cigarettes and vape liquids contain nicotine. There are a few nicotine-free vape liquids, but a majority of them contain nicotine.
“Nicotine is the substance that causes the physical chemical addiction.
“There is also the behavioral element, that when you’re feeling anxious or angry, you grab a cigarette. And similarly, because vaping has that same mechanism whereby, ‘I respond to my environment… by grabbing a vaping device’, bringing it to your mouth, inhaling and getting a positive feedback.
“So, it becomes both a chemical addiction and a habit. Both of them link together. Even if you take, nicotine-free vape, you will still become addicted because of the habit element, and to necessarily the chemical addiction. Which, is more important when trying to give up [a habit],” Van Zyl-Smit says.
Despite the varying insights, all parties seemingly spoke with the same breath – but for different reasons, saying that vaping was still in its infancy and more research was being conducted.
Health risks versus health benefits
The consensus on the hazardous effects of traditional cigarettes is unanimous across all spectrums. Not so much with e-cigarettes, although there have been reports that claim their flavorants have adverse effects on the respiratory system. The most prominent being bronchiolitis obliterans, commonly referred to as ‘popcorn lung’.
“It is a condition that damages your lungs’ smallest airways and makes you cough and feel short of breath. It’s sometimes caused by breathing in a chemical used to flavor microwave popcorn. But other chemicals or lung illnesses can also cause popcorn lung,” webMD writes.
The chemical called diacetyl in the popcorn flavorant that causes this illness has previously been used in some vapor liquids.
Salinger, who emphasizes that she does not enjoy the sweeter vape flavors and has “defaulted to the mint”, says she has read a fair amount about popcorn lung and is personally concerned about it but also commends the improvements to her health since she started vaping.
“I’ve seen improvements in my health, my breathing, my skin since I stopped smoking cigarettes. But there are still other problems which are attributed to vaping,” Salinger says.
Van Zyl-Smit says the question of the adverse health effects of vaping needs be viewed from two perspectives – the smoker and the non-smoker’s perspective.
From a non-smoking point of view, research has been conducted, “showing that if you expose people and animal cells to vaping liquid, you can induce a whole lot of changes that look similar to what would happen if you exposed them to cigarettes”.
“And so there is data to show that if you are vaping, you may have increased risks for viral infections, for pneumonia… it may increase your risk for TB [tuberculosis].”
“There are a whole lot of small experiments showing that if you vape, there are definitely biological factors that may cause problems.”
From a smoking point of view, Van Zyl-Smit says: “If you are smoking and you switch to vaping, your risk for infections and cancer seems to be reduced. But to what extent, we haven’t seen dramatically at this particular point.”
Velleman contends that there are other alternative views from the medical fraternity. She says Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos, who has “done the most amount of research on vaping and its impact on health”, has a different assessment.
She says Farsalinos, who is a doctor at the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre in Greece, spoke at a conference hosted by VPASA.
“He says one of the challenges that we face is the product that had been used by the [popcorn] manufacturer was used by some of the people who manufacture the [vaping] liquids that are used in e-cigarettes,” Velleman says.
“If you look at the products that go into the making of the liquid – that product is longer there. It’s actually been banned and is not allowed to be used.”
Velleman says these incidents occurred during the earlier phase of the establishment of the industry, “because it has always been an industry in evolution”.
The health challenges presented by popcorn lung in the vaping industry were “identified and dealt with”, she says.
Another concern about flavors is that spices used in vaping liquid contains food flavorants. “The same types of flavors that are being heated to several hundred degrees and are being inhaled. We just don’t have enough data to suggest what happens to the so-called safe flavorants when they are heated and inhaled,” Van Zyl-Smit says.
As EVP products find their way into social dialogues, the discussions span beyond recreational use, or as a tool to quit smoking. There are theories that, with enough exploration, the devices might be used to dispense medication.
The idea is that oral medications and hypodermic needles would be replaced by EVPs, which, in theory, would absorb the medication directly into the bloodstream. The health benefit being that the elimination of needles could prevent mishaps such as overdoses, as well as, HIV and hepatitis.
As it stands, it has been widely reported that medical marijuana is being used via EVPs by patients, as part of pain management therapy for illnesses such as cancer.
The Rage And Tears That Tore A Nation
Snapshots of the outrage against foreign nationals and protests against sexual offenders in South Africa in recent weeks, captured by FORBES AFRICA photojournalist Motlabana Monnakgotla.
As the continent’s second-biggest economy, South Africa attracts migrants from the rest of Africa. But mired in its own problems of unemployment and political instability, September saw a serious outbreak of attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals and foreign-owned businesses. And they have been ugly.
The spark that fueled the raging fire was in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district (CBD).
The altercation caused a riot and the taxi industry brought the CBD to a standstill, blocking intersections. It did not stop there; a week later, about 60 kilometers from the capital in Malvern, a suburb east of the Johannesburg CBD, a hijacked building caught fire, leaving three dead. As emergency services were putting out the fire, the residents took advantage and looted foreign-owned shops and burned car dealerships overnight on Jules Street.
The lootings extended to the CBD and other parts of Johannesburg.
To capture this embarrassing moment in South African history, I visited Katlehong, a township 35 kilometers east of Johannesburg, where the residents blocked roads leading to Sontonga Mall on a mission to loot the mall and the foreign-owned shops therein overnight.
Shop-owners and workers were shocked to wake up to no business.
Mfundo Maljingolo, a worker at Fish And Chips, was among the distressed.
“This thing started last night, people started looting and broke into the mall and did what they wanted to do. I couldn’t go to work today because there’s nothing to do; now, we are not going to get paid. The shop will be losing close to R10,000 ($677) today. It’s messed up,” said Maljingolo.
But South African businesses were affected too.
Among the shops at the mall is Webbers, a clothing and footwear store. Looters could not enter the shop and it was one of the few that escaped the vandalism.
Dineo Nyembe, the store’s manager, said she was in disbelief when she saw people could not enter the mall.
“We got here this morning and the ceiling was wrecked but there was no sign that the shop was entered, everything was just as we left it. Now, we are packing stock back to the warehouse, because we don’t know if they are coming back tonight,” lamented Nyembe, unsure if they would make their daily target or if they would be trading again.
Across the now-wrecked mall are small businesses that were not as fortunate as Webbers, and it was not only the shop-owners that were affected.
Emmanuel Nhlane’s home was robbed even as attackers were looting the shop outside.
“They broke into my house, I was threatened with a petrol bomb and I had to stand outside to give them a chance; they took my fridge, bed, cash and my VHS,” said Nhlane.
Nhlane had rented out his yard to foreign nationals to operate a shop. He does not comprehend why his belongings were taken because he doesn’t own a shop. Now, it means that the unemployed Nhlane will not be getting his monthly rental fee of R3,700 ($250).
Far away, the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, was also affected as trucks burned and a driver was killed because of his nationality. This was part of a logistics and transport industry national strike.
Back in Johannesburg, I visited the car dealerships that were a part of the burning spree on Jules Street.
The streets were still ashy and the air still smoky, two days after the unfortunate turn of events.
Muhamed Haffejee, one of the distraught businessmen there, said: “Currently, we are still not trading.”
Cape Town, in the Western Cape province of South Africa, which hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa from September 4 to 6, was also witness to protests by women and girls from all walks of life outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre, demanding that the leadership take action to end the spate of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.
There were protests also outside Parliament. What set off the nationwide outcry was the shocking rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old film and media student at the University of Cape Town, inside a post office by a 42-year-old employee at the post office.
There was anger against the ghastly crimes and wave of GBV in the country that continues unabated. According to Stats SA, there has been a drastic increase of women-based violence in South Africa; sexual offences are up by 4.6%, from 50,108 in 2018 to 52,420 in 2019.
A week later, on a Friday, Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile and one of the biggest economic hubs, was shut down by hundreds of angry women and members of advocacy groups from across Johannesburg. They congregated by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the cynosure of business, singing and chanting, to demand “a 2% levy on profits of all listed entities to help fund the fight against GBV and femicide”.
Among the protesters was Cebi Ngqinanbi, holding a placard that read: “I’m not your punching bag.”
“We came here to disrupt Sandton as the heart of Johannesburg’s economic hub. We want to make everyone aware that women and children are being killed every day in South Africa and they [Sandton] continue with business as usual, sitting in their offices with air-conditioners and the stock exchange whilst people on the ground making them rich are dying. That is why we are here, to speak to those that have economic power,” said Ngqinanbi.
She added that if women can be given economic power, they will be able to fend for themselves and won’t fall prey to abusive men, since most women stay in abusive relationships because men are more financially stable.
Amid the chanting and singing of struggle songs, Nobuhle Ajiti addressed the crowd and shared her own haunting experience as a migrant in South Africa and survivor of GBV. She spoke in isiZulu, a South African language.
“I survived a gang rape; I was thrown out of a moving car and stabbed several times. I survived it, but am I going to survive xenophobia that is looming around in South Africa? Will I able to share my xenophobia story like I can share my GBV story?” questioned Ajiti.
She said as migrants, they did not wake up in the morning and decide to come to South Africa, but because of the hardships faced in their home countries, they were forced to come to what they perceived as the city of opportunities. And as a foreign national, she had to deal with both xenophobia and GBV.
“We experience institutionalized xenophobia in hospitals; we are forced to pay huge amounts for consultation. I am raped and I need medical attention and I am told I need to pay R5,000 ($250).
“As a mere migrant, where am I going to get R5,000? I get abused at home and the police officer would ask me where I’m from because of my accent, I sound Zimbabwean. What does my nationality have to do with my husband beating me at home or with the man that just raped me?” she asked.
Addressing the resolute women outside was the JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King who received the memorandum demanding business take their plight seriously, from a civil society group representing over 70 civil society organizations and individuals.
The list of demands include that at all JSE-listed companies contribute to a fund to resource the National Strategy Plan on GBV and femicide, to be launched in November; transport for employees who work night shifts or work after hours; establish workplace mechanisms to provide support to GBV survivors as part of employee wellness, and prevention programs that help make workplaces safe spaces for all women.
Newton-King assured the protestors she would address their demands in seven days. But a lot can happen in seven days. Will there be more crimes in the meantime? How many more will be raped and killed in South Africa by then?
How LinkedIn Is Looking To Help Close The Ever-Growing Skills Gap
As the job market has evolved, so too have the skills required of seekers. But when 75% of human resources professionals say a skills shortage has made recruiting particularly challenging in recent months, it would appear as though the workforce hasn’t quite kept pace. Now LinkedIn is stepping in to help close the gap.
On Tuesday, the professional social network announced the launch of a “Skills Assessments” tool, through which users can put their knowledge to the test. Those who pass are given the opportunity to display a badge that reads “passed” next to the skill on their profile pages, a validation of sorts that LinkedIn hopes will encourage skills development among its users and help better match potential employees with the right employers.
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“We see an evolving labor market and much more sophistication in how recruiters and hiring managers look for skills. … We also see a changing learning market,” says Hari Srinivasan, senior director of product management at LinkedIn Learning. “The combination of those two made us excited about changing our opportunity marketplace to make the hiring side and the learning side work better together.”
So how exactly does it work? Let’s say a user wants to showcase her proficiency in Microsoft Excel. Rather than simply listing “Excel” in the skills section of her profile, she can take a multiple-choice test to demonstrate the extent to which she is an expert.
If she aces the test, not only will a badge verifying her aptitude will appear on her profile, but she will be more likely to surface in searches by recruiters, who can search for candidates by skill in the same way they might do so by college or employer. If she fails, she can take the test again, but she’ll have to wait a few months—plenty of time to develop her skillset.
The tool has been in beta mode since March, and while just 2 million people have used it—a mere fraction of LinkedIn’s 630 million members—early results seem promising. According to LinkedIn, members who’ve completed skills assessments have been nearly 30% more likely to land jobs than their counterparts who did not take the tests.
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“This has been a really good way for members to represent what they know, what they are good at,” says Emrecan Dogan, LinkedIn group product manager.
While new to LinkedIn, the practice of assessing candidates’ skills has been a standard among hiring managers for decades. But when research commissioned by LinkedIn revealed that 69% of employees feel that skills have become more important to recruiters than education, LinkedIn felt as though this was the time to give job seekers the opportunity to prove themselves from the get-go.
As important as the hard skills that members can put to the test through LinkedIn’s new tool may be, Dawn Fay, senior district president at recruiting firm Robert Half, encourages those on both side of the job search not to forget the importance of soft skills. “You wouldn’t want to rule somebody in or out just based on how they did on one particular skill assessment,” she says.
“Have another data point that you can use, question people about how they did on something and see if it’s something that can feed into the puzzle to find out if somebody is going to be a good fit.”
-Samantha Todd; Forbes
Why The High Number Of Employees Quitting Reveals A Strong Job Market
While recession fears may be looming in the minds of some, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the economy and job market may actually be strengthening.
The quits rate—or the percentage of all employees who quit during a given month—rose to 2.4% in July, according to the BLS’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover report, released Tuesday. That translates to 3.6 million people who voluntarily left their jobs in July.
This is the highest the quits rate has been since April 2001, just five months after the Labor Department began tracking it. According to Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, the quits rate tends to be a reflection of the state of the economy.
“The level of the quits rate really is a sign of how strong the labor market is,” he says. “If you look at the quits rate over time, it really drops quite a bit when the labor market gets weak. During the recession it was quite low, and now it’s picked up.”
The monthly jobs report, released last week, revealed that the economy gained 130,000 jobs in August, which is 20,000 less than expected, and just a few weeks earlier, the BLS issued a correction stating that it had overestimated by 501,000 how many jobs had been added to the market in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Yet despite all that, employees still seem to have confidence in the job market.Today In: Leadership
The quits level, according to the BLS, increased in the private sector by 127,000 for July but was little changed in government. Healthcare and social assistance saw an uptick in departures to the tune of 54,000 workers, while the federal government saw a rise of 3,000.
The July quits rate in construction was 2.4%, while the number in trade, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality were 2.6%, 3.1% and 4.8%, respectively. Bunker of Indeed says that the industries that tend to see the highest rate of departuresare those where pay is relatively low, such as leisure and hospitality. An unknown is whether employees are quitting these jobs to go to a new industry or whether they’re leaving for another job in the same industry. Either could be the case, says Bunker.
In a recently published article on the industries seeing the most worker departures, Bunker attributes the uptick to two factors—the strong labor market and faster wage growth in the industries concerned: “A stronger labor market means employers must fill more openings from the ranks of the already employed, who have to quit their jobs, instead of hiring jobless workers. Similarly, faster wage growth in an industry signals workers that opportunities abound and they might get higher pay by taking a new job.”
Even so, recession fears still dominate headlines. According to Bunker, the data shows that when a recession hits, employers pull back on hiring and workers don’t have the opportunity to find new jobs. Thus, workers feel less confident and are less likely to quit.
“As the labor market gets stronger, there’s more opportunities for workers who already have jobs. So they quit to go to new jobs or they quit in the hopes of getting new jobs again,” Bunker says. He also notes that recession fears may have little to do with the job market, instead stemming from what is happening in the financial markets, international relations or Washington, D.C.
So what does the BLS report say about the job market? “Taking this report as a whole, it’s indicating that the labor market is still quite strong, but then we lost momentum,” Bunker says. While workers are quitting their jobs, he says that employers are pulling back on the pace at which they’re adding jobs. “While things are quite good right now and workers are taking advantage of that,” he notes, “those opportunities moving forward might be fewer and fewer if the trend keeps up.”
-Samantha Todd; Forbes
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