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A vape store window display
A vape store display (Photo: Getty Images. Design: Archi Banal)

The BulletinMay 30, 2023

Should we follow Australia’s lead on vaping?

A vape store window display
A vape store display (Photo: Getty Images. Design: Archi Banal)

A new poll finds two-thirds of New Zealanders want recreational vaping banned following Australia’s move to make vaping products prescription-only, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Two-thirds of New Zealanders want recreational vaping banned

A new poll released by Newshub last night shows 68% of New Zealanders want recreational vaping banned. The result comes a few weeks after the Australian government introduced a range of new restrictions on vaping. Under new legislation, vaping products will become available by prescription only in Australia. Australian health minister Mark Butler said the new regulations will close the “biggest loophole in Australian healthcare history” taking aim at Big Tobacco’s “shiny” and “sweet” repackaging of an addictive product. “We have been duped,” he said. The BBC published a more indepth look at the rationale behind the changes yesterday.

Why your local dairy is now a vape store

Currently, New Zealand regulation allows for the sale of vaping products in specialty vape stores, with dairies and service stations limited to tobacco or mint flavours deemed less appealing to young non-smokers. Specialty stores are able to sell flavoured vape juices and disposable vaping devices. As Don Rowe reported in October last year, retailers are exploiting ambiguous regulations by partitioning existing premises into two separate stores. That is why your local dairy has recently rebranded as a vape store. Research in 2021 found that around 15% of specialty vape stores are conversions of that kind.

Body of research emerging that questions efficacy of vaping as smoking-cessation tool

The concern expressed by health practitioners and educators about vaping is rightly centred on the rising rates of vaping among young people. According to the most recent New Zealand Health Surveythe number of New Zealanders aged 15 to 17 who vaped every day quadrupled in three years, from about 2% in 2018-2019 to about 8% in 2021-2022. It’s illegal to sell vapes to anyone under the age of 18. As RNZ reported, school principals are reporting children as young as eight being caught with e-cigarettes at school. Health minister Ayesha Verrall said in early May that vaping regulation here has always been about finding a balance between “vapes being available as a tool to support people to quit [smoking] and making sure young people don’t vape”. Emeritus Professor in Public Health at the University of Sydney, Simon Chapman, recently collated research that questions the efficacy of vaping as a smoking-cessation tool.

Minister has previously ruled out following in Australia’s footsteps but says ‘nothing is off the table’

Responding to the poll, Verrall told Newshub that prescription-only vapes could be an option. “Nothing’s off the table… I certainly want to move to tighten up vaping regulations and I’ll have those proposals soon,” she said. The government called for feedback on proposed measures to further reduce youth vaping in January. Earlier this month, Verrall ruled out following in Australia’s footsteps saying there wasn’t time to make the legislative changes required this term but both Verrall and prime minister Chris Hipkins have said we don’t have the settings or balance right. Ben Youdan, the director of ASH, Action for Smokefree 2025, says policies of prohibition don’t work. Following the move to prescription-only vapes in Australia, he asks whether the tobacco industry “could ask for any better gift than a government-sanctioned monopoly for cigarettes, by far the deadliest nicotine products.”

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