No smoke and mirrors: Govt open to e-cigarette subsidies

The Government isn't ruling out funding e-cigarettes to get people off nicotine.

The Māori Party last week said vaping - the smoking of e-cigarettes - should be subsidised because "it doesn't cause cancer and other smoking-related illness".

E-cigarettes still contain nicotine, but because there's no combustion, users don't inhale many of the harmful chemicals associated with traditional cigarettes. 

"I wouldn't rule it out straight away," Prime Minister Bill English told The AM Show on Monday.

"We're down to a hard core of smokers now - there's been a lot of taxpayer money spent on reducing that number, but also a lot of revenue coming in.

"We need a bit of lateral thinking around how to deal with this small hard core of smokers, because it's still pretty bad for their health. We'd consider it."

While e-cigarettes still exist in a legal limbo, Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox wants conventional cigarettes heavily restricted, including a ban on all but low-tar varieties and a licence, similar to that needed to sell alcohol.

Because vaping is still relatively new, the long-term health effects remain unclear.

At present, e-cigarette nicotine can only be imported for personal use, and not sold - whether as an aid to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, or for conventional use.

That's expected to change soon, with the Government taking public submissions on a proposal to legalise the sale and use of e-cigarettes last year.