NZ Govt’s smokefree plan overlooks vaping alternative

/New Zealand/ The Government’s discussion document on ‘Proposals For A Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan’ alarmingly reveals there’s little intention to elevate vaping as a much safer and cheaper alternative to smoking, says a leading tobacco harm reduction advocate.

The discussion document was released today by Associate Health Minster Dr Ayesha Verrall for a six-week consultation period.

“It acknowledges vaping, but it fails to support it as a key factor to achieving a smokefree nation. There’s a lot of talk about tougher rules and regulations for tobacco, but to achieve smokefree, smokers also need to be presented with a viable, less harmful alternative – and that’s vaping,” says Nancy Loucas, co-director of Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy (AVCA). 

She says the discussion document also fails to delineate between smoking and vaping. In fact, it suggests all vape retailers – not just specialist vape stores – should be part of a licencing regime along with tobacco stockists.

“Vape businesses are already facing enormous costs with many new regulations now being finalised by the Ministry of Health. To now add more compliance costs will only make vaping products more expensive and less accessible to former smokers desperate to keep off the cancer sticks,” says Ms Loucas.

AVCA says the Government would better advance smokefree if it focused on risk proportionate measures for vaping.

“Banning all but three vape flavours from general retail from August is not risk-proportionate regulation. It’s completely over the top. We were hoping the discussion document would suggest ditching that, as flavours are key to adult smokers successfully quitting cigarettes. Instead, disappointingly, it is completely silent on such madness,” she says.

Ms Loucas says while enhancing existing initiatives such as advertising campaigns and stop smoking services are suggested, the document needed to be more explicit as to vaping’s role going forward as the best smoking cession tool.

“The Health Ministry, Health Promotion Agency, and the District Health Boards have all successfully run ‘Vape to Quit’ promotions and programmes, helping thousands of Kiwi smokers switch to vaping. Why doesn’t the Government recommend ramping up this support and make ‘Vape to Quit’ a cornerstone component of Smokefree 2025? I suspect because vaping is its next target,” she says.

While AVCA supports reducing the number of tobacco retailers, the group does not support the proposal to ‘reduce nicotine in smoked tobacco products to very low levels’.

“That just demonises nicotine when combustion is the problem. What makes nicotine particularly addictive in cigarettes are all the other chemicals put in. If you lower nicotine, you’ll just see more chemicals added. Smokers will then smoke more cigarettes to find satisfaction, meaning more exposure to tar, and greater risk of cancer.

“In short, dramatically lowering nicotine will kill more Kiwis, not fewer!”

In fact, Nancy Loucas says if implemented many of the Government’s proposed focus areas and potential actions outlined in the discussion document will only hinder, not help, New Zealand’s decade-old smokefree ambition.

“This discussion document does nothing to move more smokers over to much safer vaping. Rather, as written, it will just create a black-market for homegrown tobacco which will not be regulated and will cause even greater consumer harm than cigarettes if not processed correctly,” she says.

AVCA is encouraging smokefree supporters, as well as vape consumers and businesses, to review and submit on the Government’s discussion document before 31 May 2021 via:

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