The Government has just announced plans to regulate vaping and smokeless tobacco products in New Zealand. Here's everything we know so far.
So, what is it the Government is doing exactly?
The Government has decided that next year, the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 (SFEA) will be changed in order to clarify rules around vaping and smokeless tobacco products. The news was announced by Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa today at Turuki Healthcare in Mangere which runs a service to help young Māori women in South Auckland quit smoking.
What is the SFEA? Is it even important?
Yes, the SFEA is important since it's the legislation that protects people from second-hand smoke, stops young people (aka under 18s) from accessing smoking products, and generally promotes a smoke-free (auahi kore) lifestyle as the norm.
Basically, it's the law that bans people from smoking in public areas like bars, restaurants, cafés, and sports clubs, as well as 'workplaces' like offices, factories, warehouses, and canteens. It also restricts the marketing, advertising and promotion of tobacco products, hence why you don't see sexist ads for Lucky Strike death sticks floating around anymore.
What changes are being proposed?
The changes to the SFEA would put a stop to vaping and similar smokeless tobacco products in places such as bars, restaurants and workplaces - similar to the current rules with cigarettes. Currently, it's up to individual employers and business owners to decide whether or not to install a vaping ban.
There will also be changes to the way vaping products are displayed in retail stores which, again, will be similar to retail advertising of tobacco products. Flavours and colours that attract children and young people will also be banned.
In addition to regulatory change, the Health Promotion Agency is working with the Ministry of Health to develop a public information campaign on vaping. This will have an emphasis on supporting Māori women, who have New Zealand's highest smoking rates.
Why is it doing this? And why now?
Vaping and smokeless tobacco products weren't really a thing 20 or 30 years ago when the legislation was first introduced, and although e-cigarettes only entered the New Zealand market around a decade ago, its skyrocketing popularity in recent years means the law is simply rushing to catch up.
The Government acknowledges that vaping can help many smokers wean themselves off their dirty habit, but vaping isn't entirely risk-free. The long-term health impacts are inadequately understood which means appropriate regulation around safety, access and promotion are needed.
The issue is particularly pertinent when it comes to young people: health officials in the US (where teen vaping is rising rapidly) are moving ahead with a series of steps to sharply limit sales of tobacco products they say are designed to appeal to young people. E-cigarette company Juul has been a high-profile target which has been criticised for selling nicotine pods that taste like mango and cucumber.
There's no robust evidence yet that vaping is a 'gateway' to smoking for young people (most young people who vape daily are smokers or ex-smokers). But vaping is cheaper than smoking and experimentation with it is increasing as well, so better safe than sorry, I guess.
What's the public view on these changes? What can I do if I don't like them?
We don't really know what the wider public thinks yet seeing as the news has just been announced. But considering the changes were based on findings from a Ministry of Health public consultation in 2016 which showed overwhelming support for the continued prohibition of sales of vaping products to under 18-year-olds, we can presume the reaction will mostly be positive.
But if you're not so keen on the changes or you want to see things done a little differently, Salesa says the public will have a say on the legislative amendments proposed come next year when the select committee calls for submissions.
Jihee Junn is a staff writer for The Spinoff