29 Nov 2019

Lack of age checks for online e-cigarette sales, research finds

4:49 pm on 29 November 2019

Only one in 10 websites selling e-cigarettes are asking for proof of age before sales.

Closeup detail of Female with an Electronic Cigarette, Horizontal shot

Photo: 123RF

Otago University public health researchers say the lack of age verification, heavy online marketing and promotion of sweet flavours are encouraging children and young people to try vaping.

Their research, published in the Medical Journal today, found that of 59 New Zealand websites, 68 percent had no obvious health warnings, and only 25 percent mentioned nicotine addiction.

Health or addiction warnings were completely absent from social media promotions on YouTube and mentioned only once on Twitter.

Researchers say e-cigarette companies are exploiting a gap in regulations and they are calling on the government to take urgent action.

Associate Professor George Thomson from Otago University, who co-authored the study, said while e-cigarette companies claim they are a smoking-cessation tool, their marketing portrays vaping as fun.

"The products are very cheap, certainly in the range that children could access them easily, much cheaper than tobacco, there is a huge range of flavours and those flavours are overwhelmingly sweet and dessert flavours."

He said the lack of warnings meant the online sellers were flouting the law.

"Either they don't think the regulations apply to them or they're happy to ignore them, the Ministry of Health doesn't seem to be enforcing them."

Dr Thomson said the government had initially promised regulation this year but it has been pushed back until next year.

Auckland Bioengineering Institute researcher Kelly Burrowes yesterday told RNZ there was mounting evidence that e-cigarettes presented considerable risks and regulations were needed "really urgently".

"When there is such uncertain evidence you need to take a really cautious approach," she said. "Potentially these products are creating harmful impacts and nobody's really going to know the long-term impacts for another 10 years," Dr Burrowes said.

Last spring the Associate Minister of Health, Jenny Salesa, said legislation, including limiting vape product retail displays in a similar way to how cigarettes are sold, would be introduced this year.

In a statement she said that the process was taking longer than the government would have liked and amending the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 to cover vaping and vape products was no small task.

She said it was important to get the legislation right and she is working towards "bringing a bill to the House as soon as is practically possible".

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