Anti-smoking campaigners throw support behind e-cigarettes

Leaders in the anti-smoking campaign are throwing their support behind e-cigarettes, saying simply raising the price of cigarettes is only doing harm to those who are too addicted to stop.

The Government is looking into how it might regulate the e-cigarette market, with evidence the vapour is much less harmful than the real thing.

Hapai te Hauora chief executive Lance Norman told The AM Show tax increases haven't had an equal effect on everyone.

"Young people have stopped starting to smoke and I think tax increases have had a positive impact on young people starting," Mr Norman says.

"But it is having a negative impact on other areas of the community so we need to work out how we address that issue."

Dr Hayden McRobbie from the Counties Manukau Stop Smoking Program says that negative impact is hitting families of smokers the hardest, with the price of a packet of cigarettes now upwards of $25.

"Because it's an addiction, the addiction's prioritised," he told the show.

"They have to find the money somewhere and often that's the food budget."

Dr McRobbie says the increasing price "certainly influences" the increasing number of dairy robberies, suggesting smokes should be taken out of dairies completely to protect owners.

He says for some people it's the habit of inhaling something that people miss when they stop smoking, and vaping can fill that void.

"It's the products of combustion, it's the burning, it's the smoke that causes the harm. Not the nicotine, that's what people are smoking for. E-cigarettes, on the other hand, do not burn anything - they heat a liquid, they give nicotine, which is what smokers like.

"The estimates are they're at least 95 percent less harmful than smoking. If you look at vapour it does have some cancer causing agents in it, but it's such such low levels that they don't cause harm.

"They're not completely risk-free of course. Some of the main side effects are a dry mouth, you get a bit of a scratchy throat with them.

"But also remember these are relatively new, they have only been on the market for ten years. But what we do know is if there are any long-term risks with vaping, and there may be, they are likely to be many many times less than smoking."

Mr Norman says we're not on target to become smokefree by 2025 and need to do more than mark up prices.

"As of today [Wednesday], 35 percent of Māori still smoke. 24 percent of Pacific whānau still smoke and 12 percent of other.

"A lot of people are smoking because there might be poverty in the household or budgeting issues or mental health issues. Not everyone that smokes has those issues but the smoke for those community members is actually their outlet."

"If you don't address those social issues it's going to be difficult for them to give up."