20 Mar 2024

Disposable vapes to be banned, more restrictions on retailers announced

4:41 pm on 20 March 2024

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

The coalition will ban single-use vapes as part of a crackdown on youth vaping, aiming to have all the changes in place by the end of the year - moves supported by the vaping industry.

Other measures include much bigger fines for selling vapes to under-18s, further retailer restrictions, and a better enforcement system to ensure they are following the rules.

Associate Health Minister Casey Costello announced the changes. The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act would go through the normal legislative process - not under urgency - with an aim to have it implemented by the end of the year.

However, requirements for reusable vapes to have removable batteries and child-proofing mechanisms will be delayed until October.

She said reusable vapes were a key smoking cessation device and would remain available, but too many teenagers continued to use disposable vapes, which can be thrown out after running out of juice.

"They're cheap and remain too easy to get, despite changes under the previous government. That's why these cheap, single use vape products will be banned outright," Costello said.

Fines for retailers caught selling vapes and other regulated products like cigarettes to minors would increase from $10,000 to $100,000, with infringement-level fines increasing from $500 to $1000 for individuals and $2000 for businesses.

Licensing and compliance regimes would be reviewed, with stronger enforcement of those penalties, Costello said, and officials would consult on tighter restrictions on storefront displays and staffing requirements.

"There must be clear consequences for retailers found supplying vapes, or other regulated products like cigarettes, to minors," Costello said.

"The coalition government is committed to tackling youth vaping and to continue to drive down smoking rates to achieve the Smokefree goal of less than 5 per cent of the population smoking daily by 2025."

She said new regulations set to take effect from Thursday - including a ban on vapes with cartoon or toy imagery, and limiting flavour names to generic descriptions - would continue as planned.

Related changes for reusable vapes to have removable batteries and childproofing, would however be delayed until 1 October "to ensure sufficient availability of appropriate reusable vaping products to continue to support people to quit smoking".

'Reheated announcement', Labour says

Labour's spokesperson for health Ayesha Verrall said it was a rehash of what her party had already set in motion.

"This is a reheated announcement of things the Labour government had already put in place, with just some minor tweaks around the edges," she said.

"It does not touch on the issue of the number of vape outlets in communities."

Verrall said an increase in fines could make a difference, if they were actually enforced.

"Without enforcement, it's an empty gesture," she said.

"We need assurances from the government that there continue to be high numbers of visits and controlled purchase operations to vape stores and online vape stores."

Dairy and Business Owners Group chairperson Sunny Kaushal told Midday Report the government would need to look at where children were getting vapes, if not from dairies.

"Prohibition has never worked... the dairies and all these business owners are already 97 to 100 percent compliant, so we need to see where are these young ones getting a hold of those devices."

Aucklanders in favour of ban

On the streets of Auckland, many were not sad to hear about the end of single-use vapes.

"I wouldn't be overly upset if single use ones were banned," one man said.

"I think it doesn't help anyone in any regard, and I don't think it should be allowed," another said.

One woman spoken to by RNZ said disposable vapes were "stupid".

"They're, like, kind of a lot of money."

There was widespread concern about under 18s using vapes.

"It's quite worrying when you're hearing about, not just 15,16-year-olds, like 10-year-olds vaping at school," a man said.

"That's terrifying actually."

The Vaping Industry Association of New Zealand, (VIANZ), which said it had no connection with the tobacco industry, welcomed the planned changes.

"Banning disposables, increasing fines for retailers who sell to youth, and ensuring appropriate staffing levels in specialist vape retailers are all steps VIANZ has asked the ministry to implement previously," it said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.

But the changes would not work without enforcement, it said.

"We hope that as part of this announcement government is giving thought to how the regulations will be enforced and what resources need to be invested to ensure youth access is prevented."

The changes are expected to be in place by the end of the year.