ACT slams vaping proposals as the 'most damaging public health policy in a generation'

The ACT Party has slammed the Government's proposed vaping crackdown as "the most damaging public health policy in a generation".

Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa on Sunday revealed the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Bill would go before Parliament this week. It includes:

  • a total ban on all advertising and marketing of smokeless products
  • ban the use of vaping products in smokefree areas
  • restrict who can sell them
  • restrict general retailers like dairies and service stations to selling just three flavours - mint, menthol and tobacco - only specialist stores will be allowed to sell other flavours
  • make it easier for the Ministry of Health to issue recalls.

Salesa called it the "most significant change to New Zealand's smokefree laws since they were introduced 30 years ago", and ACT somewhat agrees somewhat - but think it's a backward step, rather than forwards.

"The ban on vaping flavours and advertising will kill off the best tool for quitting smoking and will condemn more people to cigarettes for longer," said leader David Seymour.

"Labour is cracking down on an alternative that is 95 percent safer than tobacco as if it was tobacco."

Salesa said one of the reasons for the limitations on flavours and marketing was to reduce its appeal to young people. But Seymour said she was "utterly confused and is acting on anecdote rather than evidence."

A recent study found fears of a school vaping epidemic were unfounded, with few teens who aren't smokers getting into vaping, and overall vaping rates about one-tenth what smoking rates were 20 years ago.

"Smokers must have the incentive and the information to switch," said Seymour. "Flavours, advertising and other incentives must remain. Vaping is a much safer alternative to smoking and should not be placed on a level playing field with cigarettes."

ACT's stance is at odds with the Cancer Society, Hāpai Te Hauora Māori Public Health, Action for Smokefree 2025 and the Cancer Society, who all back the changes

Industry, tax lobby concerns

The Taxpayers' Union welcomed the Government's move not to charge excise tax on vaping products, but also criticised the move to limit flavours at dairies and service stations.

"When a smoker walks into a dairy to buy their daily pack of smokes, this is precisely when they should be able to see other options. That should include flavoured liquids," said spokesperson Louis Houlbrooke.

Jonathan Devery, head of the Vaping Trade Association of New Zealand, said regulation is welcome but restrictions on the availability of different flavours was a "step too far".

"Restricting the most popular adult flavours to specialist stores, and prohibiting all advertising will not help one smoker quit tobacco. It only adds barriers and makes it harder for Kiwis to give up cigarettes."

He said the industry needed to be able to communicate the benefits of vape products to adult smokers, even in a restricted way, in order to convert them to something that is "95 percent less harmful".

David Seymour.
David Seymour. Photo credit: The AM Show

Health benefits of vaping noted

Though the long-term health effects of vaping remain unclear, scientists widely believe they're far safer than traditional cigarettes as users are exposed to far smaller amounts of toxic chemicals.

"It is the smoke that kills, and without smoke, vaping remains far less harmful than smoking," said Prof Robert Beaglehole, chair of anti-smoking group ASH, which backs the Bill.

"Encouraging smokers to switch will have substantial health gains. Of course, we do not want non-smokers, especially young people, to take up vaping, and this legislation will help prevent that."

A spate of recent deaths linked to vaping appears to be the result of cannabis liquids thickened with vitamin E acetate - not nicotine-based e-cigarettes. 

Prof Beaglehole congratulated Salesa "on balancing the need to use vaping as a quit tool for smokers and safeguarding children". 

Seymour said the fact it's taken so long for the Government to introduce the Bill means it's unlikely to pass before the election later this year. 

"ACT will be campaigning to ensure it never sees the light of day."