29 Mar 2017

Nicotine e-cigarettes to be made legal

9:48 pm on 29 March 2017

E-cigarettes with nicotine liquid could legally be sold in New Zealand shops from late next year, with the government saying vaping is less harmful than smoking.

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Retailer Cosmic says the new e-cigarette regulations will help keep "cowboys" out of the business. Photo: RNZ / Craig McCulloch

The government today unveiled plans to legalise the vaping products in a bid to help New Zealand become smoke-free by 2025.

Currently e-cigarettes containing nicotine can be imported for personal use but it is illegal to supply, sell or give them away.

E-cigarettes are electrical devices that mimic tobacco smoke by heating a liquid which produces a vapour for the user to inhale.

Associate Health Minister Nicky Wagner said scientific evidence on the safety of e-cigarettes was still developing but there was a general consensus that vaping was much less harmful than smoking.

She said the government was taking a cautious approach by aligning regulations on vaping with those for cigarettes.

Sales of e-cigarettes, whether or not they contained nicotine, would be restricted to those 18 years and over, and vaping would be prohibited in indoor workplaces and other areas where smoking was banned.

"This ensures cigarette smokers have access to a lower-risk alternative while we continue to discourage people from smoking or vaping in the first place," Ms Wagner said.

A man smokes using an e-cigarette, known as vaping (file photo)

E-cigarettes mimic tobacco smoke by heating a liquid, creating a vapour for users to inhale. Photo: 123RF

The products would not be hit by the extra taxes on normal tobacco, nor would they have to use plain packaging.

"That's an important thing, so that when a smoker goes into the dairy, he or she will see cigarettes at a very high price and e-cigarettes much cheaper."

Ms Wagner said the ministry would continue to monitor the evidence concerning e-cigarettes and other emerging tobacco and nicotine-delivery products.

She dismissed any concerns that big tobacco firms were behind many e-cigarette products.

"The point is that we want the health outcomes. Whoever sells the products, I don't think is really important."

Last year the Ministry of Health said in a Cabinet paper that there was not enough evidence to believe e-cigarettes were an effective tool in helping people quit smoking.

The law change required to make the sale of e-cigarettes legal - an amendment to the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 - was likely to happen next year.

At present, under the Medicines Act 1981, it is illegal to sell products containing nicotine that have not been approved by Medsafe. And, under current smoke-free legislation, it is unlawful to sell e-cigarettes that contain nicotine that has been manufactured from tobacco.

'It does me a lot less harm'

British tourist Sam Niechcial took up vaping about two months ago and said he had not touched tobacco since.

Sam Niechcial

Sam Niechcial Photo: RNZ / Craig McCulloch

"It does me a lot less harm. My skin's better. I feel better about myself, so I think it makes sense for the government to legalise it."

He said it was good that New Zealand was finally catching up with the United Kingdom, where vaping was widespread.

"I thought they'd have gotten around to it by now," he said.

Vape Shop owner Mark Nicholson's business had been selling related products online for more than two years and had just opened a storefront in Wellington.

He welcomed the government clarifying the law and said it would be a boon for the industry.

Vape Shop owner Mark Nicholson

Vape Shop owner Mark Nicholson Photo: RNZ / Craig McCulloch

"A lot of us are just small business owners putting a lot on the line, especially with the regulations being up in the air, but obviously we did it because we're such firm believers in how these products can potentially help smokers."

Cosmic claimed to be the country's leading e-cigarette retailer and owner Mark Carswell said he was delighted by the decision.

"We stand behind the counter day after day. We're at the coalface," he said. "We have smokers who've been smoking 30, 40 years saying this is the best thing that's happened to them."

Mr Carswell said the regulations would help keep cowboys out of the business.

"It's important that any consumable is monitored and regulated."

A public health professor at Otago University, Nick Wilson, said it was great that the government was clearing up confusion about the rules around vaping.

But he said it was "reckless" to allow nicotine products to be sold in dairies, supermarkets and petrol stations.

"It's not a sensible approach to allow such substances to be sold so widely. Whereas if they were sold in pharmacies or specialist shops, it's much easier to monitor them."

Changes to regulation of e-cigarettes and e-liquid being brought in once the nicotine products are legalised:

  • Sale, and supply in a public place, to under 18-year-olds is prohibited
  • Sale via vending machines is restricted to R18 settings
  • All retailers will be allowed to display e-cigarettes and e-liquid at the point-of-sale
  • Retailers that restrict entry to people aged 18 and over will be allowed to display e-cigarettes and e-liquid in-store (including window display) and promote products on the outside of their store, as well as offer discounts, free-samples, loyalty rewards and co-packaging
  • Broader advertising eg billboards, radio, TV and Internet advertising will be prohibited
  • Vaping will be prohibited in workplaces and other areas where smoking is not allowed under the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990
  • Product safety requirements (eg for nicotine concentration) will be set.