E-cigarettes to phase out smoking in New Zealand

E-cigarettes will play an important role in phasing out cigarettes in New Zealand. This comes after the government announced that anyone born in 2010 or later will not be able to buy cigarettes, ever.

"We know that e-cigarettes are being used successfully by smokers today to quit, and they are an important tool for phasing out smoking," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Young people turning 14 this year will never be able to buy cigarettes legally in New Zealand. At least that's the New Zealand government's plan to make the country smoke-free by 2025. The progressive age limit is the first of its kind in the world.

"We have reached a point where raising prices is no longer an effective way to reduce smoking. High prices do not help people to quit smoking either. Now we have to look at the alternatives, and that is what we are focusing on in the next step." Says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, to New Zealand Herald.

Under the age restriction, New Zealand will only allow low-nicotine analogue cigarettes in shops. The government hopes this will reduce the attraction of cigarettes while increasing interest in other, less harmful nicotine products.

 "Everyone agrees that we need to do more to reduce smoking while ensuring that those who do smoke can find safe alternatives or tools to quit." she said.

E-cigs popular despite restrictions

Smoking has dropped dramatically in recent years in New Zealand. And according to the Public Health Agency, this is partly due to the popularity of e-cigarettes in the country. This is despite the fact that it became illegal to sell the e-liquid with flavours other than tobacco, mint and menthol in ordinary shops, most recently last year. However, the ban does not apply in specialised vejp shops - where all flavours are allowed. The ban on flavours was accompanied by an 18-year age limit for buying e-cigarettes and a vejp ban where smoking is not allowed. 

Weeping - a prerequisite for prohibition

According to Jacinda Ardern the availability of e-cigarettes is a prerequisite for phasing out, and eventually banning, cigarette sales.

"The availability of e-cigarettes provides a good and workable alternative for smokers. We also see many people using them successfully to quit smoking. This gives us a realistic opportunity to push the boundaries and reduce smoking rates even further through the new legislation." she told the New Zealand Herald.

"Groundbreaking by the government"

Robert Beaglehole, Professor Emeritus of Epidemiology and former WHO staff member, is driving the initiative. Action for Smokefree 2025. He has long argued in favour of promoting harm reduction in tobacco policy and welcomes the proposal.

"It is groundbreaking that the Government recognises the unique nature of smoking in terms of its harmful effects. Today's announcement paves the way for less harmful alternatives, such as e-cigarettes and vejpning, to replace the deadly cigarettes more quickly," said Mr Higgins. Robert Beaglehole, to One News.

Important to help smokers quit - or switch

Robert Beaglehole believes that the government's proposal is a more humane way to deal with the problem of smoking, as opposed to bans and high taxes. Although smoking has declined in New Zealand, it is significantly higher among underprivileged groups. For example, 30% of indigenous people smoke mauri compared to around 14% of the general population. An outright ban would therefore do little good, according to the report. Robert Beaglehole.

"The authorities are signalling that they want to meet smokers where they actually are. Smokers need support, and for a long time we have been punishing and stigmatising them, through taxation and bans. These measures are instead about helping smokers, interacting with them and making it easier for them to quit. We need to help provide them with the right conditions, such as switching to a less harmful way of using nicotine, via vejpning," says Mr Perez. Robert Beaglehole.

Campaign to raise awareness of vejpning

New Zealand's health authorities also emphasise the importance of making safe and effective e-cigarettes available to those who want to use them for smoking cessation. It allows high nicotine levels in e-cigarettes (60 mg/ml), unlike other countries. In the EU and the UK, the corresponding limit is 20 mg/ml. The authorities are also investing in information via the website "Vaping facts" - a campaign that has attracted a lot of attention from both supporters and critics.

Concerns about the black market and young people

But the new plan for a smoke-free New Zealand has also been criticised. Many warn of a black market and financial consequences for shops. And the fact that the government is not going after e-cigarettes as hard as cigarettes, when use is increasing even among young people, has sparked debate. However, this is not a cause for concern Robert Beaglehole.

"Young people are experimenting with vejping, just as they are experimenting with smoking. But the fact is that few non-smoking young people are regular e-cigarette users. They are likely to use vejpning to quit smoking, just like adults. We can address any problems among young people at a later stage. For now, we are doing the most good by reducing youth smoking itself, while helping adults move away from cigarettes," he says.

"Smoking leads to death"

His views are shared by Prime Minister Jacinda veins.

"We have a functioning framework for e-cigarettes and that is important. I'm sure there are those who have concerns about young people using e-cigarettes. But right now we are focusing on ensuring that in the future nobody starts smoking cigarettes at all, a habit that we know leads to the death of every second user."

Hope for e-cigs in tobacco shops

Robert Beaglehole hopes that cigarette shops will also benefit from the legislation. And invest in e-cigarettes.

"They have had plenty of time to adjust sales, over 10 years, since the discussion on banning cigarette sales began. With the lowering of nicotine levels in analogue cigarettes, e-cigarettes are likely to become more attractive and easier to sell, and they should take advantage of this," said the Commissioner. Robert Beaglehole.

Compare with Covid-19

And according to Robert Beaglehole authorities should be able to manage smuggling and balance the risks of a black market. He points to New Zealand's effective management of the first waves of Covid-19.

"There are of course risks associated with these measures. But it is not an outright ban, either. And if we can stop a virus at our borders, we can deal with this," he told One News.

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