Taxpayer-funded vaping is Maori Party's latest anti-smoking push

Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox wants to see more taxpayer funding as a way to combat New Zealand's smoking addiction, and Prime Minister Bill English has said he's open to the idea.

Ms Fox told Three's The Project the Māori Party party wanted to push subsidisation of the popular smoking alternative as a way to reach the Government's 'Smokefree 2025' goal.

"What we'd also like to do is subsidise vaping," Ms Fox said, discussing anti-smoking measures.

'Vaping' is inhaling and exhaling the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.

Ms Fox said the party would like to see New Zealanders' focus moved away from combustible cigarettes into a harm-reduced product "so that at least it doesn't cause cancer and other smoking-related illness".

Mr English said on Wednesday "there's an ongoing discussion about that".

"There seems to be some evidence that it might help smokers, certainly with smoking rates we've probably used a lot of the traditional tools as far as you can, and that's been quite successful.

"But there's still a hard core of longer-term smokers and we'd be open minded about anything that looks like it might be a bit of a solution."

Dr Marewa Glover, associate professor of public health at Massey University, said she doesn't think subsidizing is necessary but wants the law around vaping to be made clear.

"Honestly I don't believe that subsidizing is needed, just make it legal, and just let people have better access," she said.

"Make sure that it's available wherever cigarettes are sold and when people go to buy their cigarettes they will have the choice, and they will have this other less harmful option there that they can choose.

She says we need to allow "harm reduction choice" for people.

"People are smart, they will choose the less harmful one. Everyone practices harm reduction in some way all the time. We just need to have the product there when they go to buy their tobacco."

It would be complicated to attempt to subsidize such a wide range of products, she said. 

She said there is a 'grey area' over the legality of nicotine e liquid and it needs to be clarified.

The Māori Party has previously thrown its weight behind other smokefree measures, including plain packaging and higher prices for tobacco products.

Ms Fox has also advocated in the past for retailers to require licensing to sell cigarettes.

"What we want to do is reduce harm to our people and our nation," she said.

"If 300 to 500 deaths each year come from smoking-related causes, we need to deal with the effects of smoking-related illnesses and the harm on our people.