22 Aug 2023

Labour's vape crackdown 'panic-based policy making,' opponent says

6:44 pm on 22 August 2023
Closeup detail of Female with an Electronic Cigarette, Horizontal shot

Vape restrictions proposed by Labour may not stop a rise in youth use, some say. Photo: 123RF

Those concerned about vaping restrictions say the measures proposed by Labour today are not good enough - and might not even happen.

Labour says it would slash the number of vape stores to 600 nation-wide if re-elected.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has gone a step further and said any existing vape retailers within 300 metres of schools and marae may be forced to close.

Vape Free Kids NZ only last week took to the steps of Parliament to deliver a petition with 13,000 signatures calling for tougher restrictions on vapes.

Spokesperson Tammy Downer feared the problem was just getting kicked down the road.

"This won't even happen unless they get elected, and then by then it will also take time to implement if it goes through legislation.

"We've got a massive issue today and the families that are struggling with issues don't have any support or anywhere to go 'cause the cessation services are for people that are smoking."

The latest Asthma Foundation data showed about 20 percent of young people under 18 vape regularly.

Hipkins has ruled out making vapes available for pharmacy use only, saying it would be another hurdle for smokers to transition to vapes.

But Downer said it would help drop the youth vaping rate.

"Where's the biggest risk, the smokers having to go a bit further to get smokes or the amount of kids picking up vaping daily at the moment with the availability as it is?"

She said there were still potentially more than 6000 retailers that were not specialist stores, such as dairies and petrol stations.

If Labour is re-elected all retailers including these stores will need to have a license to be able to sell vape products.

Labour said it would also look into retailer display regulations to make vape products less visible and attractive from the store front.

Hāpai te Hauora Interim CEO Jason Alexander said while the move would be great if it went ahead, he wanted to also see restrictions on where vape stores were placed.

"We do see a concentration in some of our poorest neighbourhoods which isn't surprising, sort of follows trends that we've seen with alcohol outlets and the like in the past.

"So we do need to make sure that we don't have a concentration on vape stores in our highest deprivation areas."

Dairy and Business Owners Group Chair Sunny Kaushal called Labour's plan a war on dairies.

"This is a panic-based policy making, you know who is going to be the biggest loser in this scenario? It will be the Smokefree 2025 year, right. Vaping is the biggest weapon we had to stop smoking in New Zealand."

Vaping Industry Association of New Zealand chairperson Jonathan Devery told Checkpoint it was a political move.

"I think it's a desperate policy by a struggling government looking to leverage an emotive issue with parents for votes.

"It's going to completely derail Smokefree 2025, it's going to be easier for people to access tobacco than it will be for vaping products, people will revert back to smoking."

Devery labelled the move as a disaster for public health and a desperate move by Labour to pick up voters.

Recent evidence from an Action on Smoking and Health year 10 survey showed more than 75 percent of students accessed vapes through friends, older people or family, he said.

"Seven point six percent of youth access vaping products from physical stores being a vape store or a dairy and online, so this policy does nothing to address the actual issue which is where youth are actually getting these products from."

"They have no evidence to support what their policy is supposed to represent. You're talking thousands of job losses and thousands of business closures and that's the only thing, the only real result from this policy."

Health Coalition Aotearoa co-chair Professor Boyd Swinburn told Checkpoint the government was behind the eightball on slowing vaping.

"This really is a catchup job," he said.

"We do have to be mindful that vaping still offers people an opportunity to quit" smoking, but the rapid rise of youth vaping was a problem, he said.

The reaction against vaping came too late to stop the boom in users and store, Swinburn said.

"This was a sluggish government response I have to say. For a few years we didn't have any regulations on the books and vape shops sprouted up like mushrooms."

Dairies cut themselves in half to sell vapes and maximise profits, he said.

"Now we're looking at reversing that trend which is much harder than preventing it in the first place."

He did say Labour's plan to introduce a licensing regime would give more leverage to enforcement efforts.

"People who then break the law, they sell to underage kids, they can have their licenses withdrawn" and face penalties, he said.

"That will be quite a powerful deterrent."

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