22 Oct 2017

Ministry changes tune on smoking alternatives

8:37 am on 22 October 2017

After a change of heart, health officials are throwing their support behind e-cigarettes and vaping, saying they could help people quit smoking.

Woman smoking e-cigarette, vaping.

Photo: 123RF

Vaping is the act of using an electrical device that heats a liquid, producing a vapour that the user inhales.

The Health Ministry opposed the devices back in September last year, saying there was not enough evidence to show they would help smokers to stop.

But it has since changed its stance, saying in a statement that switching to e-cigarettes and vaping is likely to reduce health risks to smokers and those around them.

"Expert opinion is that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than smoking tobacco, but not completely harmless," the ministry said.

It said while the devices contained a range of toxicants, including some that could cause cancer, the levels were much lower than those found in cigarette smoke, or at levels that were unlikely to cause harm.

E-cigarettes released low levels of nicotine and other toxicants into the air with no identified health risks to bystanders, the ministry said.

But it is urging people wanting to quit smoking to still seek out support services, as it continues to monitor e-cigarettes and their long-term effects.

Massey University associate professor of public health Marewa Glover, a strong advocate for the use of e-cigerattes, said there were a lot of people who were unsure about using the devices and the ministry's endorsement would change that.

"The evidence is still coming in and piling up that this is safer than smoking tobacco and we'd much rather people do this than keep smoking," she said.

"They can get everything they're getting from smoking, from vaping."

Zoe Hawke, the manager of the national tobacco control advocacy service at Hāpai Te Hauora, an organisation for Maori public health, said she supported the ministry's decision and the use of e-cigarettes to stop smoking.

Many of the smokers she talked to were interested in vaping and had not found remedies like nicotine patches or gum very effective.

But she's concerned that there's not a lot known about vaping.

"What we need ... is more research to see what vaping does long term, so until that time we are suggesting strongly that people use it as a quit smoking tool but eventually wean off vaping as well," she said.


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