US vaping death sparks fears Kiwis will swap e-cigarettes for real ones

Clickbait headlines could be costing Kiwis their lives, according to the director of New Zealand's largest vaping company.

Ben Pryor, from Alt New Zealand, says worrying headlines about the dangers of vaping could deter smokers from quitting.

"Every person who reads a misleading headline and puts down their vape to pick up a pack of cigarettes again will unnecessarily lose on average, 20 years of their life," said Pryor in a statement on Monday. 

On Saturday, global media reported the death of a person in Illinois, US was directly linked to their use of a vape. The person contracted a severe respiratory illness, and died in hospital.

Pryor says these headlines are damaging as they do not reflect legal vape products.

"These stories out of the US are referring to caustic substances. We are talking about street-purchased, black market products," he said on Monday.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) has confirmed New Zealand has no reports of respiratory illness caused by vaping. 

"Recent news from the USA has raised concerns about vaping and severe lung diseases," Director of public health Caroline McElnay told Newshub.

"The main issue seems to be what was being vaped. THC from unlicensed sources purchased on the street has been identified in at least some of the cases," she said.

"At this stage it is difficult to know what exactly is causing the problem."

The MoH does not confirm vaping is entirely safe; the organisation's website clarifies vaping, while safer than cigarettes, is not risk-free.

"The risks associated with long-term vaping are unknown. While vaping is less harmful than smoking it is unlikely to be totally harm-free."

At the moment there are no safety standards in place for vaping products in New Zealand. 

McElnay told Newshub draft regulations are in the works, but not finalised yet.

They will include limits on nicotine levels, limiting the scope of ingredients in vape liquid, and ensuring quality standards for what is included in vapes, as well as setting standards for refill containers and devices.