Hone Harawira calls for 'something radical' to happen in quest for smoke-free, vape-free New Zealand

Anti-smoking campaigner and former MP Hone Harawira has called for the Government to step up and do "something radical" to ensure a smoke-free and vape-free future for New Zealanders.

Harawira appeared on The AM Show on Wednesday to warn Kiwis against the dangers of vaping, something he said is "no different" to smoking.

"Smoking is killing our people, vaping is the next one.... vaping is just smoking through a tin," he said.

"States in the US are already launching investigations because people are dying from it."

While e-cigarettes lack many of the carcinogenic ingredients found in traditional cigarettes, they still contain a number of chemicals - the health effects of which remain largely unknown. 

As noted by Harawira, kids and non-smokers are increasingly drawn to vaping as it's commonly marketed as a "healthier" habit to help smokers quit. The misconception that vaping is 'harmless', alongside the availability of different flavours, compounds its appeal.

"Someone needs to step up or something radical needs to happen... by the end of 2020, eliminate flavouring... reduce the point of sale to just the big supermarkets," Harawira suggested.

A study of Los Angeles high school students published in the Pediatrics journal last month found young people were more likely to maintain the habit long-term and take twice as many puffs per vaping episode due to sweet-flavoured products.

According to the study, US epidemiologists have found teens who vape are more likely to become smokers as many will develop a nicotine addiction - prompting them to switch to regular cigarettes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than 80 percent of US teens who vaped in 2014 said they did it because "it comes in flavours I like", the LA Times reports.

However, spokesperson for the Vaping Trade Association of New Zealand (VTANZ) Jonathan Devery claims there is "no evidence" flavours lead to youth vaping, with 90 percent of adults relying on e-cigarette flavours to successfully quit smoking. 

Yet Harawira claimed vaping is "more damaging and more addictive" than cigarettes as it provides "extra hits" of nicotine.

"Vaping has the same impact on brain development on under-25s as smoking," he claimed.

Associate Minister of Health and Manukau East MP Jenny Salesa has promised to introduce the Smoke-free Environments (Vaping) Amendment Bill into Parliament in an effort to regulate vaping, indicating the Government will ban the most popular flavours for adults.

Harawira claimed Salesa "might be waiting for National to step up the way they stepped up on the gangs and say they'll ban smoking altogether".

"It's a health issue that impacts Maori hugely and New Zealanders across the board," he said.

On Tuesday, VTANZ announced its support for over 60 health and community organisations, academics, and school representatives who have written an open letter to Salesa, calling for legislation to be urgently introduced to regulate vaping.

"We've been calling for regulation for over five years. It was promised over a year ago, and we're still waiting," said Devery.

The Mana Movement founder said "there is no reason why" New Zealand shouldn't follow America's lead by suing Big Tobacco and other tobacco industry companies. 

"I've been trying to talk to some lawyers but they're all a bit scared... they say our laws are different," he claimed.

Earlier this month, a "breakthrough" discovery was made in the investigation into America's numerous vaping-related injuries. Tests of lung samples taken from 29 patients all contained vitamin E acetate, believed to be a cutting agent in illicit vaping products containing THC - the component of marijuana that gets people high.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there have been 2051 confirmed and probable US lung injury cases and 39 deaths associated with use of e-cigarettes or vaping products.

Nearly 85 percent of lung injury patients in the nationwide outbreak have reported using products containing THC.