As a public health measure against COVID-19, South Africa restricted the sale of “tobacco, e-cigarettes and related products” for 5 months, ending on August 17, 2020. We examined marketing activities related to novel tobacco products (e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products) during this restriction. Using web scraping, we accessed data for 2661 e-cigarette liquids marketed online by South African vendors in June 2020. We also analyzed heated tobacco product volume sales (kits) using retail scanner data from Nielsen Company. The 2661 e-cigarette liquids assessed online comprised cannabidiol liquids, 28.8%[767/2661], nicotine salts, 10.4%[276/2661], e-cigarette juice concentrates, 14.1%[376/2661], nicotine-free e-liquid, 4.0%[107/2661], and nicotine-containing e-liquid, 42.6%[1135/2661]. Cannabidiol liquids had the highest percentage of fruit (78.4%[601/767]) and tobacco flavors (9.4%[72/767]). During the restriction, many online e-cigarette vendors actively promoted cannabidiol liquid in lieu of regular e-liquid. Nielsen retail scanner data showed that volume of heated tobacco product sales in February 2020, preceding the restriction (7.76 million kits), were higher than in February 2019 (4.52 million kits). The restriction saw decreased sales of heated tobacco products; mean weekly heated tobacco product sales in the 6 weeks following the restriction (772,585 kits/week) were dramatically lower versus the 6 weeks preceding the restriction (2.26 million kits/week). Lifting the restriction saw a 131% spike in sales between the latter half of August 2020 (825,638 kits) and mid-September 2020 sales (1.90 million kits), even though total sales in September 2020 were half of what was observed in the preceding year (3.81 million units in September 2020, vs 6.33 million units, September 2019). The marketing of cannabidiol and other novel products by e-cigarette manufacturers and the tobacco industry may encourage youth use; close monitoring is required.
- Heated tobacco products