11 Feb 2022

New vape regulations won't stop kids vaping: academic

From Nine To Noon, 2:35 pm on 11 February 2022

New regulations on vape products come into force from today but a public health expert says the change won't do anything to stop the rise in young people vaping.

Closeup detail of Female with an Electronic Cigarette, Horizontal shot

Photo: 123RF

What are the changes?

Under the amended Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act, all retailers, manufacturers and importers are only allowed to sell notified vaping and smokeless tobacco products that have been registered with the Health Advisory and Regulatory Platform.

All products must comply with the relevant product safety requirements before they can be notified, and notifications must be renewed every 12 months, or they will expire.

When the changes were announced last year, associate minister of health Ayesha Verrall said it would help reduce the appeal of vaping products to young people.

"There will be a focus on ensuring protections for children and young people are effectively implemented and enforced."

However, University of Otago professor of public health Janet Hoek told Nine to Noon these regulations would do little to dampen the products' popularity among young people.

In addition to the rules, use of cartoons and toys on packaging has been banned, and a health warning in English and te reo Māori must be included on the back and front of products.

Smokefree enforcement officers can also inspect sites, products on sale, and advertising, as well as take air samples, photos or other recordings.

Previous changes brought into effect include banning generic retailers such as dairies, service stations and supermarkets from selling vaping products in flavours other than tobacco, mint and menthol. Only specialist vape retailers are able to sell other flavours.

Vaping and smoking in motor vehicles carrying children became banned in November last year.

'We need to get vaping products out of dairies and convenience stores'

The marketplace was already very proliferated, with more than 6000 products listed on the notification website so far, Prof Hoek said.

"It's also incredibly important to make sure that this widespread aggressive marketing that's being designed to target young people is stopped.

"When I have a look at the database and look at some of the product names that are still being used, you know, I'm still concerned that this marketing is continuing. And of course, the product names and variant names, they're only one small component of a much broader marketing strategy that's being used to target young people."

She said not only were vaping companies were selling their products in packages there were "eye-catching and alluring", but also diversifying their distribution channels.

"These products are sold in nearly every dairy. In fact, we're seeing dairies now subdividing their premises, so that they're no longer generic retailers who are limited to selling tobacco mint and menthol flavors, they're applying to be specialist retailers so that they can sell the full array of flavours, including the confectionery flavors, the fruity flavours, that we know appeal strongly to young people.

"If you go onto any social media platform, you can see that there is still a lot of promotions that are featuring vaping products that are inviting young people to tag each other so that they get the kind of viral spread of different promotions that are offering rewards for young people who refer their friends and this is very sophisticated, very pervasive and continuing marketing that targets young people."

Prof Hoek acknowledged the amended act did try to control advertising and promotion of the product, but she said social media was largely unregulated as a platform.

Associate minister of health Ayesha Verrall has said that the law was about striking a balance between ensuring vaping products were available for smokers who wanted to switch to a less harmful alternative and ensuring these products were not marketed or sold to young people.

Prof Hoek agreed that it was important there were differences in the ways in which tobacco and vaping products were allowed to be marketed, because vaping was an important alternative to have for those addicted to tobacco.

On the other hand, having vaping products so readily available at stores like dairies meant it was just making access easier for young people rather than those trying to quit, she said.

"There is a tricky balance that needs to be maintained. And to my mind, we haven't done enough to protect young people.

"In work that my research group has undertaken, we've found that most people who smoke and buy vaping products buy their products from specialist vape stores, only about 5 percent were buying from dairies, so dairies are not serving the community of people who smoke. They are simply making the product more available to young people.

"When we did some work with dairy owners to explore their knowledge of vaping products. I mean, many of them knew almost nothing about the product that they were selling."

Survey shows 'rising vaping prevalence among young people'

Another problem was that "in allowing vaping products to be more liberally regulated, we've focused too much on the needs of people who smoke and not enough on the needs of young people".

The evidence was there to show young people needed to be protected from the potential harms of vaping, she said.

She said the New Zealand Health Survey, for which the youngest age group involves 15 to 17 year olds, found "really rapid growth" in current and daily vapers.

"So current vaping has gone from 3.5 percent in 2018-19 to over 12 percent and 2020-2021. Daily use is obviously a bit lower. That's gone up from just over 2 percent in 2019-2020 to just under 6 percent in 2020-2021.

"There's a very large survey that the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation conducted and they've estimated over a quarter of the secondary students who they surveyed had vaped in the last week.

"I think it's important to note that different surveys do use different measures, they have different samples and that makes comparing the estimates really difficult. But I think when we look at the New Zealand Health Survey, what we need to do is to focus on the pattern that we can see and that pattern is rising vaping prevalence among young people."

In her own team's research, she said they found that young people often found that the dependence on these products often came as an "unwelcome surprise".

Controls such as testing requirements also needed to be included in the monitoring of these products, so authorities could pull unsafe vapes from the market, Prof Hoek said.
"There has to be a process that enables very rapid management of retailers who breach the regulations, and then there has to be a really effective product warning system."

"There's a lot that we still need to learn about the long-term impact of some of the ingredients on people's health. So it's absolutely crucial that we have a system that enables research evidence to be translated into product warnings and safety actions as quickly as possible, and I think that's what the system is designed to do."