Vaping 'now effectively banned where smoking is': Advocates troubled as new law takes effect

Vaping is "now effectively banned where smoking is" in New Zealand and advocates of the electronic alternative are expressing concern as the new law takes effect. 

"The general rule is if you wouldn't smoke there, you shouldn't vape there," said Nancy Loucas, co-director of Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy (AVCA), responding to new laws prohibiting vaping at workplaces, restaurants and licensed premises. 

"Instead, it is finally a totally legalised activity for New Zealand adults, albeit now more tightly regulated," Loucas said. "We now encourage non-vaping Kiwis to remember vaping is stopping their colleagues, friends, and family from smoking."

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Act 2020 passed in August 2020 and came into effect this week. It introduces a range of rules around vaping which will be phased in over a 15-month period through to February 2022. 

Loucas hopes there will not be "unintended consequences" of the new laws, such as employers using the regulations to try and ban employees from vaping outside when they're trying to give up smoking. 

"We encourage New Zealand's 200,000 vapers to think a little more before they vape."

Some of the key changes:

  • The sale or supply of vaping products to under-18s is prohibited
  • Indoor vaping is prohibited at workplaces, restaurants and licensed premises
  • Vaping at schools is prohibited and at early childhood centres (including outdoors)
  • Most advertising and sponsorship of vaping products is prohibited and flavours will be restricted
  • Retailers cannot encourage the use of vaping products (with some exceptions)

"Labour's decision to regulate vaping in the same way as cigarettes is the most damaging public health policy in a generation," said ACT leader David Seymour. 

"Restrictions on vaping flavours and a ban on advertising will kill off the best tool for quitting smoking and will condemn more people to cigarettes for longer. Labour has cracked down on an alternative that is 95 percent safer than tobacco as if it was tobacco."

Health Minister Andrew Little acknowledged that the changes mean the laws around vaping "are now similar to those around tobacco smoking", because the Government wants to prevent young people from accessing it. 

"These changes will prevent vaping products from being marketed or sold to non-smokers, especially young people, while ensuring that they are available for smokers who want to switch to a less harmful alternative."

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Getty

Several health organisations asked for vaping to be less available to young people, including the Cancer Society which encouraged a ban on vape flavours that are attractive to children. It also sought for smoke-free areas to be vape-free. 

A survey conducted by the Cancer Society in September 2019 found 90 percent of schools were aware of students vaping, with more than half describing it as a problem, and nearly one in 10 primary schools aware of students vaping. 

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation has set up a website 'Don't Get Sucked In' to encourage teens not to try vaping or smoking in the first place, by challenging them to think critically about vaping and how it fits with their goals. 

Seymour accepted the Government's concern comes from parents and schools alarmed about students being targeted, but he says it contradicts statements by former Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa who led the law change. 

"Some people worry that vaping might be a 'gateway' to smoking for young people, but there is no clear evidence for this," Salesa said in June 2019. "Smoking among young people is continuing to decline and most young people who vape are smokers or ex-smokers." 

Health Minister Andrew Little.
Health Minister Andrew Little. Photo credit: Getty

Smoking kills around 5000 New Zealanders each year, according to the Ministry of Health, and Seymour says smokers must have the incentive and the information to switch. 

Little said smokers will have access to that information. 

"Vaping is not without risks, but it is less harmful than cigarette smoking, which is why the legislation allows for the provision of information and advice for those wishing to switch from smoking to vaping."

Retailers that receive the majority of their sales income from vaping products can now apply to become transitional Specialist Vape Retailers (SVRs), making them exempt from some restrictions that apply to general stores. 

But retailers who choose to become transitional SVR's have less than two weeks to apply - all applications must be in by November 24 - otherwise they can only operate as a general retailer. 

The Ministry of Health's Vaping Regulatory Authority is responsible for the regulation of vaping products and smokeless tobacco products and will manage applications.