Smoke and vapour: the changing world of tobacco harm reduction

Public health Smoking e-cigarettes New Zealand
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In many parts of New Zealand vaping has become a regular sight, and e-cigarette retailers have been popping up across the country.1 What might have once been seen as a niche hobby is now properly understood as a viable way of cutting down or quitting smoking. A number of public health experts both in New Zealand and overseas have recognised the role e-cigarettes and other non combustible products can play in complementing anti-smoking measures.

Vaping – the action of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol produced by an e-cigarette – has become so commonplace that some might be surprised to learn that the domestic sale of nicotine e-liquids used in these devices has been illegal in New Zealand, the law just wasn’t being enforced.2 While the previous National-led government had announced an intention to clearly legalise the sale of nicotine e-liquids, smokeless tobacco and other nicotine delivery products, these actions have been stalled by the election of a new government with other policy priorities. Given the law was not being actively enforced,3 and the National-led government had indicated an intention to legalise, there has been some public confusion about the legal status of these products.

It has been estimated that there are around 63,000 daily vapers in New Zealand, and vaping is helping many New Zealanders stop smoking,5 despite the regulatory grey area it currently occupies. It is clear that there are smokers who want access to effective, satisfying and less harmful alternatives to cigarettes. It is also clear that quitting smoking will improve the life expectancy, health outcomes and financial wellbeing of smokers. Thus it is perplexing that some of those committed to reducing the harm of smoking in our community have been so resistant to allowing broader access to these risk-reduced products.

This report argues that while the government needs to clarify its position, any regulations introduced should neither hinder access to these products, nor misleadingly conflate reduced risk products with the known harms of smoked tobacco products.

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