6 Jun 2023

Watch: Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, Health Minister Ayesha Verrall speak at post-Cabinet press conference

4:01 pm on 6 June 2023

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall have used today's post-Cabinet meeting media briefing to announce changes to vaping products to try to reduce the number of young people taking it up.

The government stopping new vape shops from being allowed to open within 300 metres of schools or marae, cutting down on disposable vapes and restricting the descriptions on product flavours.

From August, vapes will need child safety mechanisms.

Potentially enticing names like "cotton candy" and "strawberry jelly donut" which accompany products will be prohibited, and only generic names describing the flavour such as "berry" allowed.

All vaping devices sold will soon need to have removable or replaceable batteries.

From August, there will be a lead in time of three months for disposable and six months for reusable vapes for the industry to make sure products are compliant with the law.

Verrall said this limited the sale of cheap disposable vapes popular among young people.

"We recognise we need to strike a balance between preventing young people from starting to vape, at the same time as having vapes available as a cessation tool for those who genuinely want to give up smoking.

"These new regulations build on protections the Labour Government introduced in 2020, including banning sales to under-18s and prohibiting vape advertising and sponsorship.

Vaping had played an important role in the reduction of New Zealanders smoking over the last few years, Verrall said.

Asked why the restriction of vaping shops on proximity to schools only included new shops, not existing ones, Verrall said the existing shops had set up under the law as it was at the time.

Vape flavours like 'Strawberry donut' may be replaced with 'berry', Verrall said. "More generic names like that that restrict the ability to develop a brand that is particularly appealing to young people."

Plain packaging was explored at an early stage, Verrall said, but that was not part of this proposal.


File image. Photo: AFP/ ANP MAG - Koen van Weel

Asked why they were not made prescription-only, Verrall said she was aware this was a proposal being explored in Australia. "We received feedback against that from some doctors in New Zealand but also, our laws have to be right for New Zealand."

"If we were to put vapes, which have a legitimate role for adults quitting (smoking) behind a barrier, then those people who face the greatest barrier accessing their GP would have the greatest barrier to quitting smoking.

"Brian Betty for example, who is the immediate past medical director of the college of general practitioners said that recently that putting prescription requirement would be a step too far in terms of vape control."

Hipkins said the changes would be phased in over the next six months to give the industry time to adjust to the new law.

"The new regulations build on the protections that the government introduced back in 2020, that included banning sales to under 18s and prohibited vape advertising and sponsorship."

There was a balance to be struck, he said.

"It's one thing to make it expensive and difficult for young people to start and carry on vaping - which is what these actions are designed to do - it's another that would be to do something that gets in the way of adults who are using vaping as an alternative to smoking, something that we support.

"Vaping has played an important role in the record reduction in New Zealanders smoking over the last few years."

The Australian government recently announced a ban on recreational vaping and the UK is considering a crack down.

The New Zealand government has ruled out following suit - at least in this term. Hipkins directed the health minister to bring some suggestions to Cabinet.

The number of people smoking had fallen by 56,000 people in the last year, Hipkins said.

A recent survey by ASH New Zealand showed there was a 209 percent increase in daily vaping among 13- to 14-year-olds.

Ministry of Health statistics showed the number of young New Zealanders aged 15 to 17 who vaped every day had quadrupled in three years, from 2 percent in 2018-19 to 8 percent in 2021-22.

For rangatahi Māori, particularly girls, vaping rates were even higher.

The smokefree 2025 goal was a tobacco control goal, Verrall said.

"I'm not saying vapes are good for you but they are far, far less harmful than tobacco."

Asked if she could say that by 2025, if a massive chunk of the population was vaping, if she could honestly say it was not causing massive health impacts for people, Verrall said: "The health impacts would be markedly less. There's no credible scientist out there saying vaping is anywhere near as bad as tobacco. However, it is addictive it distracts our young people from their education and so on and so that's why we're markedly restricting them".

Asked if the government would need to set a new goal to get vaping out of the system once the smokefree goal was met, Verrall said "I think there is a need for government to constantly be reviewing it's regulations in this area of young people and trends because as we've seen with vaping, where this change came up really across a period of 18 months, things do change quickly".

Verrall was asked if she was concerned that the government had been too focused on tobacco and the tobacco industry had shifted into a completely different market, and that we did not have that right controls now.

"I think these are incredibly impactful measures," Verrall said.

"Particularly the change on disposable vapes and you'll notice that we've developed these changes in parallel to many of the changes that we've done with smokefree because we are capable of developing regulations on two issues at the [same time]... the tobacco industry is incredibly litigious so we did have to go through a process of developing a process, consulting on them and then bringing them out after a proper consideration."

It was very hard to stay closely aligned with trends in young people's substance abuse, she said, and the government had to go through a process to make sure the regulations stuck.

Verrall was asked to clarify her comment on the tobacco industry being litigious.

"The tobacco industry has a history of taking countries that are at the forefront of tobacco regulation to court. New Zealand is now in that...in the forefront of tobacco regulation."

Asked if the tobacco industry had sent any legal letters or threats while she has been minister, Verrall said: "Not legal threats, no, but I think they've been in touch with the office".

Cabinet met today in the shadow of revelations about Michael Wood's failure to declare shares worth $13,000 immediately when he became an MP or when he took up the transport portfolio.

Hipkins stood down Wood as Transport Minister this afternoon so any remaining issues around his conflicts of interest were sorted.

Wood issued an apology earlier in the day after Hipkins told Morning Report he would be having another conversation with the minister.

National's acting Auckland spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said Wood's failure to follow the rules was a "colossal error of judgement".

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