'Our rangatahi deserve better': Experts urge vape shop restrictions to address 'epidemic'

11:59 am on 15 March 2023
A teenager smokes an e-cigarette.

Vaping shops have been positioned near where children congregate, including playgrounds. Photo: Unsplash

Experts are calling for a limit on the number and location of vape shops to combat what they say is an epidemic of vaping among rangatahi.

Vape stores are not currently subject to the same restrictions as stores selling tobacco products.

But regional manager at Takiri Mai te Ata Regional Stop Smoking Service, Catherine Manning, said there was no limit on the number of vape stores in an area, or where they can be built in proximity to kura or playgrounds.

"We need to change the legislation to fall in line with what we've done with tobacco, so that there isn't this proliferation of retailers out there.

"We need to make sure that we change the messages that we're sending out because it has been unhelpful for our kids to hear that it's safer then tobacco, because what they hear is that it's ok to do it," she said.

Manning said in Levin, where she lived, there were two vape stores opposite a local playground, one of them had even taken its name from the playground.

Messaging like this had contributed to the epidemic of vaping among young people, she said.

"We've got an epidemic of kids vaping now. So the numbers are huge, I don't even think we actually have a true picture of what is happening out there for our kids.

"We know anecdotally every single school in the country has raised concerns about the number of kids [vaping]," she said.

A survey last year found that 10 percent of Year 10 school students (aged 14 to 15) were vaping daily, but it was more than double among Māori (22 percent) and Māori girls had the highest rates of daily vaping at 25 percent.

Māori public health provider, Hapai Te Hauora, chief executive Selah Hart, said an increase in vaping among Māori was coinciding with a drop in daily smoking rates.

"A lot of the whānau who are currently vaping, and I'm talking about adult whānau who smoke, have been successfully using vapes as a tool to quit, and that was always the original intention," she said.

"I think now though what we've got is a issue where... whānau who never smoked, rangatahi who were never smokers of traditional smoked tobacco... [are] picking up vapes."

University of Otago associate professor of public health Andrew Waa, said as traditional smoking declined, tobacco companies would look for new markets, which included vapes.

"There's just so much out there, and so much variety and so many differences in devices that I think it's absolutely inevitable that they will appeal to young people, and that's probably part of the plan," he said.

"Especially the disposables, which are becoming much more available for young people."

Hart said, although vaping had been a good tool to reduce smoking rates, we cannot get stuck in the same cycle of addiction as cigarettes.

"We don't want to go through another twenty or thirty year cycle of having to unbundle and unwind the availability or the proliferation of these vape products in our communities already saturated by alcohol, fast food, ciggys... all of the things that do not lead to good healthy outcomes for our families."

Hart said some of the underlying causes of youth vaping were societal, education and whānau pressures which left rangatahi stressed and more likely to turn to vapes.

Manning said blaming or stigmatising rangatahi for high rates of vaping would do nothing to help combat it.

"Stop trying to seek solutions from our kids for a problem they didn't create. Our rangatahi deserve better, adults need to do better," he said.

"And I think that is the disconnect, our rangatahi didn't create this problem let them not be the ones who are blamed for it, don't stigmatize them, don't steal their future."

Public submissions for the Smoked Tobacco Regulatory Regime, which aims to tighten restrictions on vaping, close 5pm Wednesday.

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