8 Aug 2020

Vaping law 'a tepid win' in halting youth increase

10:22 am on 8 August 2020

Vaping legislation has come too late to stop a new generation of non-smokers becoming addicted to nicotine, according to a marketing scholar who has researched the use of e-cigarettes.

Closeup detail of Female with an Electronic Cigarette, Horizontal shot

Photo: 123RF

The bill regulating vape products passed its final hurdle in Parliament this week.

It will outlaw marketing and sponsorship from November.

Point-of-sale marketing and on-site posters will continue, and will not carry health warnings and R18 language until February 2022, said AUT senior lecturer of marketing Dr Sommer Kapitan.

"That's a long time for habits to be formed and for perceptions that this is a less risky product to still be part of the perception of young people."

Promotions, social media influencers and festival sponsorships had been used by vaping companies to entice smokers trying to quit, but also to create a new market.

"This unregulated world of marketing of vape as a lifestyle choice has actually created an image and an appeal that means the marketing methods have worked. The message that comes across is that this is something that is cool, hip and trendy.

"We see the same playbook from the smoking and tobacco ads of the 60s and 70s from Big Tobacco. We know this playbook and they're using the same rules."

Customers had seen colourful vape posters plastered across dairy counters since 2018 and that would continue, she said.

Schools and families had been on the frontline, witnessing the vaping increase among young people, and she herself saw students taking up vaping who had never smoked before.

"For parents, teachers, and principals of today's youth, this is a win, but a tepid win," she added.

"Since the widespread use and adoption of sponsorship and marketing activities that promoted vaping as an attractive lifestyle choice in late 2018, non-smokers and youth have embraced a habit that leaves them addicted to nicotine. There are still key questions to be answered about the limits to curb marketing efforts, which as a nation I hope the government and prime minister will soon address."

The availability of all vaping flavours in easily accessible locales, including dairies and supermarkets, would continue until August 2021, she added.

From then, flavours other than tobacco, mint and menthol would only be available in specialist vape shops, which was prompting an expansion in the number of those outlets.

Professor Chris Bullen, of the School of Population Health at University of Auckland, said by and large the legislation was a positive step for public health to achieve the goal of a Smokefree Aotearoa by 2025.

"The challenge for our legislators has been to find the right balance - the regulatory 'sweet spot' - within this system, whereby e-cigarettes are still legally available to help smokers to quit smoking tobacco while not encouraging vaping as a lifestyle option for young people who don't smoke to adopt.

"[The legislation] provides greater clarity for retailers and consumers than has been the case for the past several years of regulatory limbo. Importantly, it will enable a system to identify and remove low-quality, potentially harmful products from the marketplace and to penalise unscrupulous retailers who sell or market to minors."

But Prof Bullen said there could be adverse consequences such as ex-smokers who now vape or use oral nicotine products reverting to smoking if they cannot find their preferred brands or flavours.

"It will be essential to monitor the impacts of these changes on different population groups as the legislation takes effect. If we're not making rapid progress towards our Smokefree end goal, it is vital we have the ability to adjust the system using all the levers at our collective disposal."

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