Vaping ad and flavour bans slammed as 'short-sighted', 'knee-jerk'

Health advocates and the vaping industry are calling on the Government to back down on a planned marketing and advertising ban.

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Bill, which will be introduced to Parliament on Monday, includes a prohibition on advertising vaping products.

But the evidence suggests they're an effective tool to help smokers quit. 

"Vaping is the most disruptive influence on smoking in decades," Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa says, because they give smokers the nicotine hit they want, without the thousands of toxic chemicals present in traditional cigarettes.

The Government's Health Promotion Agency has recognised this, and backs vaping as a safer replacement, or a stepping stone towards giving up nicotine altogether.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told The AM Show on Monday they don't want anyone who isn't already a smoker to be tempted to start vaping.

"The reason that we've regulated in the way that we have is to try and use it for smoking cessation - but I'd rather no one ever started either."

While this aligns with the Health Promotion Agency's message of "don't start if you don't smoke", Jonathan Devery of the Vaping Trade Association of New Zealand says if smokers don't hear about vaping, they'll never switch.

"If we can't communicate the benefits of our industry, why are people going to put down cigarettes and convert?" he told The AM Show. "It's a knee-jerk reaction to tactics some specific companies have been using."

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

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) director Deborah Hart said a "mass media campaign" is needed to convince more smokers to switch - and the industry has a part to play in that.

"We think that the total ban on advertising is a very blunt instrument. We should be banning marketing to kids and young people [that vaping is a] 'cool thing'. That needs to be completely outlawed. 

"But people need to know that there's an alternative to smoking and they need to know where to go. If you can't advertise that, then what? It shouldn't be that hard."

ACT Party leader David Seymour has similar concerns.

"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," he said on Sunday, after the Government revealed what was in the Bill. 

Flavour restrictions leave bad taste

In an effort to stop kids getting hooked, the Bill will restrict what flavours can be sold where. While specialist R18 stores will be allowed to sell whatever flavours they like - provided they meet safety standards - general retailers like dairies and petrol stations will be restricted to just three relatively mundane tastes - tobacco, menthol and mint. 

Ardern said the evidence showed tasty flavours lure in smokers, but there are fears kids who see them in dairies and the like will also want to try them. 

"That's why we've said we'll put them in the speciality stores only - R18... but making it available because we know it makes a difference for people who are trying to give up."

But Devery suggested many smokers won't go to R18 stores, and won't be tempted by the three flavours they see at their local shop.

"Where tobacco is available, you need to have the most successful vaping products. That's short-sighted." 

Ardern admitted if she'd been asked as recently as six months ago, she would have backed a total flavour ban - but recently came to understand they do help tempt smokers away from cigarettes.

Salesa said making vapes prescription only, to make it really difficult for kids to get their hands on them, was considered but ultimately ruled out because it will be "another barrier" to getting smokers, particularly Maori, to quit. 

Assuming the Bill passes its first reading in March, it'll go to select committee, where interested parties will be able to have their say.