a young ish woman usning a vape. blonde, a cloud of smoke, and a dark background
Vaping marketing targets young people, who often see peers using the device on social media Photo: Getty

PoliticsFebruary 25, 2020

Cheat sheet: What’s the deal with the new vaping law?

a young ish woman usning a vape. blonde, a cloud of smoke, and a dark background
Vaping marketing targets young people, who often see peers using the device on social media Photo: Getty

A long-awaited bill to regulate vaping has been unveiled at parliament. Here’s the skinny.

What does the bill do?

The bill, which associate health minister Jenny Salesa is calling “the most significant change to New Zealand’s smokefree laws since they were introduced 30 years ago”, will introduce a complete ban on the sale of vaping and smokeless tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18. The advertising of vaping products and smokeless tobacco is also banned, while e-liquid flavours will be limited to tobacco, mint and menthol in non-speciality stores like dairies and service stations.

What about other flavoured products?

Last year the government suggested it would prohibit other flavours altogether. But this new bill will allow other flavours to be sold at “approved specialist vape retailers”.

Why the restrictions? Weren’t e-cigarettes meant to be a good thing in terms of getting people off smoking?

E-cigarettes and vape pens were originally introduced as, and still are, a less harmful alternative for people trying to quit smoking (pay particular attention to the word less). This action from the government is a response to the increasing number of people using e-cigarettes without having any prior addiction to smoking, and consequently becoming addicted to the nicotine present in most e-liquids. Vaping has become a particular trend in secondary schools, with brands like Juul turning vape pens into a lifestyle item. Vaping might be seen as Nicotine Addiction: The Next Generation.

Will I still be able to show off my fat clouds and sick tricks?

If you must, but you won’t be able to do it in smokefree areas. You can only vape in places where you would be able to smoke standard cigarettes. Some concerns have been raised that people who are trying to quit smoking could find themselves in contact with a lot of cigarette smoke.

Will this make it harder for people to quit smoking?

The government says the legislation is intended to discourage potential new users from picking up vaping, while having as little of an impact as possible on those who need it. Part of that will be making sure that e-cigarettes are still more accessible than standard cigarettes, while still being out of reach for young people.

Let’s rewind a bit: are kids really getting addicted to nicotine?

The Ministry of Health found that about a quarter of teens aged from 15 to 17 have tried vaping at least once, about 52,000 people, with 3000 of those being daily users. Teachers and principals have been begging the government to take action ever since they promised to address the issue in 2018, with their initial announcement that they would be banning products that appeal to children. It’s an international problem too, just last month the US announced that it would also be banning flavoured cartridges like those used in Juul devices because they appealed to kids.

What is a “Juul?”

Juul is basically the Apple of vaping, they’ve turned e-cigarettes into fashionable tech. They’re the most widely used brand of vape in the United States (and probably the rest of the world too) and are notoriously popular with teenagers. Juul popularised flavoured cartridges such as mango and creme, and although these flavours have been discontinued in the United States they’re still very much available in New Zealand.

Is vaping dangerous?

It’s not as dangerous as smoking. Vaping eliminates the trace chemicals in tobacco cigarettes, but still has many harmful elements of its own. Some e-cigarettes are known to contain not-insignificant amounts of formaldehyde, as well as trace metals from the device itself. This is not to mention the fact that inhaling anything other than air is probably not very good for you. Ongoing use can cause lung damage or even cancer, much like smoking. It’s worth remembering that e-cigarettes exist to help people quit smoking, they aren’t harmless, they’re just a hell of a lot better than standard cigarettes.

Will parliament support it?

National has complained about the slowness of the bill’s arrival, and that it is keen to support it. If recent events are any guide, the least predictable of all will be New Zealand First.

What impact could it have?

Salesa is trumpeting the bill as a crucial step towards the smokefree 2025 target. It introduces greater safety regulations for vaping products and will allow the Ministry of Health to issue warnings and suspend potentially dangerous products. But its viability will be tested as it goes through a select committee process. The test then will be whether it gets the balance right between encouraging people off cigarettes at the same time as limiting the recruitment of new puffers.

Keep going!