Jacinda Ardern defends not letting kids use vaping to quit smoking

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended the Government's plan to outlaw the sale of vaping products to children, even if they're already smoking. 

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Bill, which will be introduced to Parliament on Monday, will include a ban on sales of e-cigarettes to under-18s.

Since its invention just over a decade ago, vaping has proven to be an effective smoking-cessation tool - delivering the nicotine hit smokers crave, without the nasty chemicals which are largely responsible for its toxicity. 

"It's the tar and the toxins, thousands of toxins that comes out of tobacco smokes that is really harmful," Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa told The AM Show on Monday. 

It's early days for vaping so there is no evidence for its long-term safety, but doctors believe it's likely to be 95 percent safer than smoking traditional cigarettes - which is why the Government's Health Promotion Agency has been pushing it as a stepping stone to quitting altogether.

It's already illegal to sell cigarettes and vaping products to people under 18 under the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990. Jonathan Devery of the Vaping Trade Association of New Zealand says while the industry supports this age limit, they will be pushing for changes to the Bill during the select committee process to allow younger Kiwis to use vaping products as a smoking cessation tool.

"We are aware there are cessation services, parents who are purchasing and providing vaping products to kids that are addicted to cigarettes," he told The AM Show. "It will be outside the law as it currently looks. We will definitely be requesting changes."

Jonathan Devery.
Jonathan Devery. Photo credit: The AM Show

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) director Deborah Hart said the total ban on sales to under-18s is a "problem in the legislation" they also want reconsidered.

"We do have unfortunately still some children smoking, and getting them to vape so that they can get off smoking, it does make sense - but gosh, it's awful."

Keeping teens away from vaping 

Thankfully few teenagers are vaping, especially when compared with how many used to smoke, a recent study found. And few of those who've taken up vaping weren't already smoking. 

"About 3.1 percent of 14- to 15-year-olds are vaping, and the vast majority of them are smokers," said Hart.

Ardern told The AM Show the law has to "send a message I don't want kids taking up this product". 

"If we'd come out with something that said a 15-year-old would be able to buy a vape, you rightly would have a go at me," she told host Duncan Garner. "It's difficult. Of course we don't want a 15- or 16-year-old to smoke, nor do we want them to start vaping, so I'm not going to make that product available to them."

Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: The AM Show

Devery said contrary to what critics of the industry might think, they don't want teenagers getting hooked on their products.

"You don't make money because teenagers have very little money. They can't purchase these products. It's harmful to our industry," he explained.

"We have a $3 billion tobacco industry here in New Zealand. We can target adult smokers and make money. We don't need to be focusing on kids - it's ridiculous to suggest we would... consider doing that." 

Deborah Hart.
Deborah Hart. Photo credit: The AM Show

No extra money to promote vaping - yet 

There aren't currently any plans to increase the Health Promotion Agency's budget to promote vaping as a smoking cessation tool. Salesa said she has bids in to get increased funding at next year's Budget.

"I would love that. One of the things that I'm also working on is an action plan on how we actually reach smokefree 2025. Passing this legislation is one of those ways."

Hart urged the Government to act sooner.

"We do not have time. This is urgent business. We have 5000 New Zealanders dying of smoking every year."

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Bill is expected to have its first reading in March.