Time for the government to change the rules for e-cigarettes


Many of our New Zealand laws have not kept up with technology so laws designed for one thing are clumsily applied to another. One glaring example of this problem is how the law applies to e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes and ordinary cigarettes are legal and tobacco is legal but the e-liquids that contain nicotine and that are needed for e-cigarettes cannot be sold legally. People can buy e-liquids online and import them for personal use but it is still illegal to sell them.

This will surprise many consumers who have purchased them in New Zealand from both physical and online shops. New Zealand remains in legal limbo with a Ministry of Health that is choosing to not prosecute retailers who flout the law and a government who as yet has not changed a law that clearly needs changing. If Tobacco is legal it makes no sense at all that liquid nicotine should be illegal.


…It looks like smoking but then again, it doesn’t. The cloud is cleaner and whiter than cigarette smoke. It disappears quickly. It smells faintly of fruit, as Odering?selected a nicotine flavour called Tropical Wonder, but it could as easily smell like custard or mint or coffee. And it probably won’t do a bystander any harm.

…Should we encourage cigarette smokers to take up these new tools instead?

Nell Rice thinks so. Rice has the title of Cosmic Buyer and was onboard when Cosmic made “an ethical and executive decision” that it would start selling nicotine liquids and risk prosecution.

The technology is ahead of the law. And while the devices can be sold in New Zealand, and nicotine liquid can be imported for personal use, selling it is illegal.

“Everybody that’s selling it is flouting the law,” Rice says. “Part of the reason for so many people doing that is the Ministry of Health has not made a prosecution for retailing nicotine liquid. We didn’t sell it for a long time, and would report retailers who were flouting the law, but there was never any follow-up. We had customers saying they couldn’t stop smoking without the e-liquid.

Hence the ethical and executive decision. And Rice believes that vaping is effective. She smoked for 20 years and tried to quit again and again. Smokers know how tough that gets. She got into vaping and there were four months of dual use before she dropped cigarettes.

…He says his customers are just as motivated by money as health. Cigarettes cost around $20 a pack these days and are set to keep climbing. Whereas after the initial outlay for a vaping device, which might cost between $100 and $130, you start saving.

…business is growing, he says. This is the general picture for retailers who are hoping to establish themselves ahead of law changes that might clarify the grey areas. Cosmic’s sales of vaping?products are up 60 per cent on 2015.

“Because the industry is so unregulated at the moment, it’s everywhere,” Rice says. “You need to know where to look, but it’s everywhere.”

…Change is coming to this murky area. Health academic Marewa Glover praises Government minister Sam Lotu-Iiga for opening up a discussion on vaping in New Zealand.

…Glover says it is likely that the Government will amend the Smoke-free Environments Act rather than create a new law for vaping. That strikes her as sensible. But from her position as associate professor of public health at Massey University,?she is concerned that there is a level of ignorance or naivete even in the health sector.

Glover argues that when nicotine is legal, it should be sold everywhere that cigarettes are now. Dairies, gas stations. There could even be a legal requirement to stock vaping?products alongside old-fashioned smokes.

Next, the age issue. Vaping stores plaster R18 signs on their?doors, observing the conventions of smoking law. But for Glover, this creates the wrong impression. We let 12-year-olds use nicotine patches and gum. To restrict vaping to adults will create an impression that it is as dangerous as smoking.

“It’s going to send the wrong message and will put people off switching.”

And where to vape??People will expect?vapers?to observe smoke-free areas.

…Wellington’s?inclusion of vaping in its ban of smoking in public spaces seems “prohibitionist”?to Glover.?Other people’s clouds are not a hazard, she says.

“It’s like saying I don’t like your perfume or your body odour. It’s not second-hand smoke.”

It is all about smoking cessation. We should make it more attractive than smoking, not treat it the same, Glover argues. She was impressed when she heard about an Auckland branch of the Warehouse that created a vaping area indoors?for staff who were quitting smoking. It seemed “compassionate and supportive”.

…research released by Public Health England, an agency of the Department of Health in the UK, that says vaping?is 95 per cent less harmful than smoking tobacco.

There is a lot of supportive science that hails vaping as one of the great public health breakthroughs. Yet confusion also remains. In the same report in which it presented the 95 per cent figure, Public Health England noted that nearly half of the surveyed population did not know that vaping is safer than smoking.

Another survey, reported by the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK, reinforced that while nicotine is addictive, it is not harmful, which is again not understood by 90 per cent of the population. “Getting people onto nicotine rather than using tobacco would make a big difference to the public’s health,” chief executive Shirley Cramer said.

You can see the problem. Years and years of public health campaigns have demonised smoking. Now public health officials are arguing that a key aspect of cigarettes is actually worth keeping and promoting. It can even be used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

“Nicotine does a number of things in the brain and some of them are positive,” Glover says. “Smokers know that. It’s just that it comes with all these killing toxins.”

…It will be a strange world indeed if public health academics, tobacco companies and alternative retailers like Cosmic all find themselves on the same page. But before that happens, the Government has to rewrite the rules. That could take another year at least.