28 Aug 2022

No investigations into vape sales to underagers in Auckland - yet

1:24 pm on 28 August 2022

No operations have yet been carried out to find out whether vape retailers are selling to under-age customers in Auckland.

A teenager smokes an e-cigarette.

Photo: Unsplash

Since the Vaping Regulatory Authority was set up in November 2020 it has issued only 11 infringement notices nationwide, carrying a fine of $500 each.

Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) said Covid-19 has affected compliance activity since early 2020 and it had begun revisiting old complaints this year as well as starting investigations into five businesses that sell vapes.

"This investigation work involves meeting the directors or their nominees, gathering information, explaining the complaint, determining if any breaches exist and following up with a letter. The pathway from there depends on the nature of the breach. For allegations of sales to minors, a Controlled Purchase Operation (CPO) is undertaken.

"CPOs only occur after a compliance officer has visited the retailer to check they are meeting their obligations for retailer restrictions, to provide education about their obligations and to warn of a potential future CPO. ARPHS has carried out tobacco CPOs for a number of years, but is yet to carry out any for vaping."

By contrast, public health units sent minors into 53 vape shops in Wellington, and eight shops in Tairāwhiti.

Public health units are responsible for investigating compliance for tobacco and vapes sales, while council are in charge for liquor shops.

Last year, Auckland council carried out more than 100 CPOs at licensed premised in the same period last year, and found 20 were not compliant.

National Public Health Service numbers have no breakdown of how many tobacco and vape retailers have been targeted by inspectors, but from this year it will provide separate figures. The combined figures for 2021, show there were 486 compliance visits and 817 education visits to tobacco and vape retailers.

"To date, there have been 11 infringement notices issued, all of which have been for the sale of regulated products to minors," said a Ministry of Health spokesperson. "No enforcement action has been taken in relation to ingredients."

"If the person pays the infringement fee then no further enforcement action will be taken," she said. "If the infringement fee is not paid, the offence may be referred to the court," said a Te Whatu Ora/Health New Zealand spokesperson.

Compliance and enforcement would continue to ramp up now staff are returning to their normal non-Covid-related duties.

In Wellington Public Health visited the majority of specialist vape retailers in in April and May, education visits 'with a very strong emphasis on age eligibility'.

"This was followed by controlled purchase operations where 53 specialist vape retailers premises were tested, resulting in one breach of sale to a minor," Medical Officer of Health Jill McKenzie said.

"The retailer was given a warning and further education provided.

"Overall we were happy that the education visits were successful at reminding premises of their responsibilities under the legislation. Further controlled purchase operations are planned this year."

In Tairāwhiti, a specialist vape retailer shop sold a vape item to a minor.

"The retailer was referred to the Ministry of Health. The Public Health Unit followed up the controlled purchase operations by sending all vape vendors in the region educational information about their legal responsibilities. The Public Health Unit in Tairāwhiti will continue to monitor vape retailers discovered to be selling to underage buyers and will continue to carry out future undercover operations."

Public Health South had investigated three premises for potential breaches and official warnings were issued.

"There are roughly one-two enquiries every six weeks regarding vaping indoors, in the workplace, in vehicles and on school sites. There have been three complaints this year about vaping sales to a minor.

In each instance the appropriate action has been taken in line with guidance from the Vaping Regulatory Authority, including an education visit."

Concern about increases in youth vaping were echoed in submissions about Government regulations, which showed some medical experts were also worried about vaping even as a means to quit smoking.

In its submission, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) said there was a "growing body of evidence that suggests vaping may be associated with its own specific harms."

"This includes: e-cigarette or vaping product use associated acute lung injury (EVALI), a diffuse parenchymal lung disease; nicotine poisoning; trauma from device battery explosions; pneumothoraxes; status asthmaticus; and injury to the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and neurologic systems. Given the lack of evidence ACEM does not support any strategy to encourage vaping, even as a means for tobacco cessation unless under the supervision of a health professional."

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