3 May 2023

Urgent debate needed on future on vaping in New Zealand - GP

5:18 am on 3 May 2023


The government says it is unlikely to follow Australia's vaping crackdown - at least this term.

The Australian federal government has announced tough new measures in an effort to stop young people vaping.

Health Minister Mark Butler said the bright colours, range of flavours, and accessibility had turned a generation of young people into nicotine addicts.

"Vaping was sold to governments and to communities all around the world as a therapeutic product to help long term smokers quit. It was not sold as a recreational product, and in particular, not one for our kids. But that is what it's become: the biggest loophole, I think, in Australian healthcare history," Butler told the National Press Club.

The Australian government will restrict flavours and colours, bring in "pharmaceutical-style" packaging, reduce the nicotine content, and halve the importation of non-prescription vapes.

It was also banning single-use, disposable vapes, which Butler said were clogging landfill and had become toxic to the environment.

"These are supposed to be pharmaceutical products so they will have to present that way. No more bubblegum flavors, no more pink unicorns. No more vapes deliberately disguised as highlighter pens for kids to be able to hide them in their pencil cases," he said.

General Practice New Zealand chair Dr Bryan Betty has long called for vapes to be pharmacy-only products in New Zealand.

He said there needed to be an urgent debate over what New Zealand could do next.

"Now is the time to really start to think about this. Maybe the Australian experience or what's happening there at this point, will give an impetus for those discussions and real thinking about what is done in the New Zealand context."

New Zealand already has some vaping restrictions.

Flavours in anything other than tobacco, mint, and menthol can only be bought at specialist shops.

New Zealand also has something Australia was not considering: restricting the availability of tobacco so nobody born after 2009 will be able to buy it.

Ayesha Verrall

Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall has sought consultation on regulatory measures to make vaping less attractive to young people. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said the steps New Zealand has taken to restrict tobacco availability were exactly why vapes needed to be available to smokers trying to quit.

But she admitted the right balance has not been struck between what vaping was intended for, and what was actually happening.

"It is not good that young people are addicted, and vaping does cause addiction. So that's why we do want to move in terms of making them less attractive, less available, and also making sure that the law is enforced and there isn't sales to young people."

Verrall has recently sought consultation on regulatory measures to make vaping less attractive to young people, such as changing the names of flavours, and ensuring vape shops cannot set up near schools.

She expects to introduce some changes to the Smoked Tobacco Regulatory Regime soon, but something on the scale of Australia's crackdown will take much longer.

"I think in terms of moving to that step that Australia has done, that would require a legislative change."

Verrall said there was no time to make such a legislative change this term.

Christopher Luxon

National Party leader Christopher Luxon is open to a ban on vaping. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

But changes would find favour with National, which supported toughening up the legislation.

"Originally they were introduced so they could help people come off smoking, but it's actually created a whole class and a new sector of addiction for young people. So I think that it is time that we actually stop and take a look at what's actually going on and what rules are needed," National leader Christopher Luxon said.

He said he was open to any steps, including a ban.

But ACT leader David Seymour disagreed.

"I understand people will want to have a moral panic and ban them and so on. But I just point to the fact that every generation does something crazy. This generation wants to inhale nicotine-laced water vapour, and compared with things previous generations have done, it's not so bad," he said.

Bryan Betty said the long-term consequences of vaping were still unclear, but some problems were already emerging.

"I think we need to start to have a coherent debate about this, a transparent debate about what we need to do. So we're not in a situation in twenty years time looking back and saying we missed the opportunity."

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