The sale of nicotine e-cigarettes and e-liquid will be made legal, in a process that will begin this year and is expected to come into force in late 2018.
The Government will align the regulations around vaping with those for cigarettes, Associate Health Minister Nicky Wagner announced on Wednesday.
Ms Wagner acknowledges that some retailers are already selling nicotine e-liquid, however no one has been charged for selling or buying the product.
"Scientific evidence on the safety of e-cigarettes is still developing but there's a general consensus that vaping is much less harmful than smoking," Ms Wagner says.
'Vaping' is inhaling and exhaling the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.
While the current legislation makes it legal to import e-cigarettes, it's illegal to sell them if they contain nicotine.
Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox has previously called for vaping to be subsidised by the Government, to support smokers moving to a less harmful product.
Tobacco company Philip Morris has welcomed the changes, saying it will help New Zealand to progress towards its 2025 smokefree goal.
"It is clear that products that do not burn tobacco are significantly better than conventional cigarettes," general manager Jason Erickson says.
"To achieve the Smokefree 2025 goal, adult smokers in New Zealand will need access to a broad range of smokefree alternatives, including nicotine-containing electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products."
COSMIC retail chain owner Mark Carswell is "very pleased" about the changes.
"We are delighted for the New Zealand smokers who now have mainstream access to vaping as a way to quit cigarettes. We've been retailing e-cigarettes for five years now and it is great to have positive clarity around the legislation."
New rules for all e-cigarettes, whether or not they contain nicotine, include:
- Restricting sales to those 18 years and over
- Prohibiting vaping in indoor workplaces and other areas where smoking is banned under the Smoke-free Environments Act
- Restricting advertising to limit the attraction of e-cigarettes to non-smokers, especially children and young people.
"Public consultation showed a strong appetite for change so the Government is looking to introduce an amendment to the Smoke-free Environments Act this year. The changes will likely come into force later in 2018," Ms Wagner says.
All vaping products will need to meet quality and safety standards, and the Ministry of Health will set up an advisory group to help set these standards.
E-cigarette products will not be taxed as cigarettes are, because the Government wants to encourage smokers to switch to the less harmful alternative.
"We'll have no excise on e-cigarettes or e-liquid. I think that's an important thing so that when a smoker goes into the dairy he or she will see cigarettes at a very high price, and e-cigarettes much cheaper."
Under the new regulations e-cigarette products won't be required to have plain packaging, and can be advertised in stores and on the outside of stores.
The Government maintains its goal for New Zealand to be smoke-free by 2025.