National denies it's holding up vaping legislation

The National Party is rejecting accusations it's responsible for the hold-up in getting vaping legislation across the line.

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Bill is at its third reading in Parliament, and once passed, will provide regulation for the Wild West vaping industry. 

"We're going to see, if this Bill doesn't pass, it's another summer of unregulated vaping, marketing to youth," Deborah Hart, director of anti-smoking group ASH, told The AM Show on Monday.

"It's inexplicable that the Government can't get together with other parties and get this done."

Evidence to date suggests vaping, while not risk-free, is safer than smoking. The Government wants to keep strict controls on its availability however, promoting it is a tool for people who want to quit rather than a straight-up replacement.

"The Bill aims to strike the right balance between making sure vaping is available for smokers who want to use it as a quit tool for cigarettes while ensuring vaping products are not marketed or sold to children and young people," Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa said in February when she introduced the Bill.

Parliament's in its final week before rising ahead of the election campaign. Hart says it would take "less than an hour" to get the vaping legislation passed.

"They can't spare an hour to get this Bill across the line? They've got legislation ahead of it that's only at the first reading stage that won't cross the line. Here's something at the third reading stage. It is crucial for public health."

The hold-up is due to an amendment proposed by National, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told The AM Show, which would allow vaping retailers to sell oral nicotine pouches. The Bill's current text bans them. 

National MP Nicky Wagner's amendment says "up to 10,000 New Zealanders" currently use the pouches "as an alternative to smoking". 

"As oral tobacco-free nicotine pouches are administered through the oral route (between the top lip and the gum) no respiratory risk is associated and the route of administration has been proven through nicotine gum and sprays with no adverse health problems," the supplementary order paper (SOP) reads.

Ardern wants the amendment gone, saying she saw the negative effects of such products - known as 'snus' in Sweden where they originated - when she was in Scandinavia prior to becoming an MP. 

"I do not want to see that here in New Zealand. So if the National Party want to withdraw that amendment, that will certainly help us make some progress. Withdraw that and let's see if we can get that through."

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

Tobacco-based snus are already banned in New Zealand. Non-tobacco snus aren't, but aren't covered by existing cigarette laws either - only restricted to people 18 and over as they contain nicotine. They can reportedly be advertised in ways cigarettes can't, using attractive imagery and branding.

National says if Ardern wants to keep snus out of the vaping Bill, all she has to do is talk to coalition partner New Zealand First.

"Labour has the numbers, in normal circumstances, to easily vote this down," a party spokesperson told Newshub. 

"The issue they have is that NZ First, their coalition partners, supports our SOP.  This is not an issue for National but for the coalition government."

Hart said the amendment is not contentious, and shouldn't be an obstacle to getting the Bill passed.

But Ardern is sticking to her guns.

"My view, my very strong view is that vaping legislation should not be used as a backdoor to bring in other nicotine products."

National has suggested another couple of changes too - one to loosen restrictions on who can sell vaping products, and another to "allow community health groups to deliver support to smokers to switch from smoking to vaping where that training and ongoing support and guidance is provided by a qualified health worker". Hart says neither of these are contentious, and the Government should come to a compromise with National over the retailer issue.

"We think the Bill is not perfect, but it's better than nothing. Get it across the line."