“Sure, we have some concerns, but overall, the Ministry is heading in a positive and pragmatic direction. As market leaders, we appreciate their willingness to listen and their genuine openness to communicate,” said VAPO co-owner Jonathan Devery.
Concerns about the proposed fee structure
Devery and his partner, together with countless vape advocates in New Zealand, have always been in favour of, and even urged local authorities to set in place, vape regulations. However, they believe that the Ministry of Health’s proposed fee structure will be a stumbling block for the local industry, making it hard for businesses to keep operating.
“The initial fee structure has underestimated the amount of SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) vape stores sell. The fees will need to be reduced to make the scheme feasible for companies, and to deliver the Ministry of Health’s goal of meeting their costs to implement the new regulations without unduly profiting from the industry. We appreciate the proposal to give the industry nine months to implement product packaging changes, and we’re hoping the Ministry is equally reasonable on other regulatory timeframes.”
Moreover, they added, vaping and smoking must be regulated in a different manner which reflects their relative risks. “Unlike Big Tobacco selling vaping products here, local manufacturers and brands like ours are just not geared up to make quick changes. It’s important Kiwi-made vape products remain competitive, otherwise Big Tobacco wins with all their revenue exported overseas,” said Devery.
The proposed flavour restrictions
The industry is also concerned about the proposal to ban sweeteners in e-liquids. “Our collective goal is to convert smokers to harm reduced alternatives. In order to achieve this, vaping products must be given an equal or more advantaged playing field. The Ministry of Health states that up to 10% of cigarettes contain sweetening agents designed to increase their palatability. How can vaping products compete in the smoking market when such key flavouring components are restricted?”
“We don’t support the flavour limits for general retailers, such as supermarkets and service stations, that are set to take effect in August. Flavours are key in getting adults to successfully quit smoking, and as has been well established, there is no youth vaping epidemic in New Zealand.”
“Yes to tough sanctions for anyone caught selling vaping products to under 18 year olds, but no to making vaping less appealing or accessible to adult smokers desperate to get off cigarettes,” said Devery.
The vape flavours petition
In line with Devery’s arguments, co-director of Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy (AVCA) Nancy Loucas, has sent a supporting supplementary submission of a petition that was submitted last year. The petition on vaping flavours was signed by over 17,000 people before it closed on 31 March last year. However, it was not formally accepted by Parliament until the 10th of August, five days after the the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Act had already been passed.
The AVCA petition to Parliament requested: ‘That the House of Representatives debate the Government’s proposal to limit flavoured nicotine e-liquids to mint, menthol and tobacco.’ “We believe the proposal to limit flavours is counter to the views of experts – the Ministry of Health and Hapai Te Hauora – and will not help achieve Smokefree 2025… We know vapers quit smoking with fruit and dessert flavours, not tobacco, menthol, or mint flavours, as they are not looking for a cigarette taste but to move away from cigarettes,” wrote Loucas in her supplementary submission to the select committee.
She went on the refer to the ASH report ‘Surge Strategy for Smokefree Aotearoa 2025: The role and regulation of vaping and other low-risk smokefree nicotine products’, saying that it actually mentions the risks of over regulating. “The authors reiterated that ‘examples of plausible unintended consequences of excessive control include banning all or most flavours in vapes, (which is) likely to cause a relapse to cigarette smoking for those unable to use a preferred flavour, and could encourage a black market,’” noting that similar bans overseas have also seen a rise in smoking rates.
Loucas highlighted that not having flavours available for smokers in rural areas will minimize their chances of quitting smoking successfully. “Having only tobacco, mint and menthol available in rural localities with no access to bricks and mortar specialist vape shops will limit the success of those smokers, and current vapers, to become and stay smokefree.”
“The very people with the highest smoking rates, who suffer the most harm from smoking, are wildly disadvantaged by the restrictions put forth, to combat a ‘youth epidemic’ that does not exist in Aotearoa New Zealand,” she wrote.
The Kiwi government had promised to implement ‘risk proportionate regulations’
AVCA’s supplementary submission noted that former Associate Health Minster Jenny Salesa had promised to implement ‘risk proportionate regulations’ in early 2019, saying then that New Zealand did not have a youth vaping epidemic. However, within months, after unrelated incidents involving unregulated products in the US, Ms Salesa u-turned insisting she would limit flavours to supposedly protect young Kiwis from taking up vaping.
“New Associate Health Minister, Dr Ayesha Verrall, is now working on a draft smokefree action plan and understands Tobacco Harm Reduction. We have a new Health Select Committee, a new Vaping Regulatory Authority, and the opportunity to now have our say on the Ministry’s draft vaping regulations.”
“I am hoping my petition signed by 17,357 Kiwis is finally taken seriously. We don’t have to make vaping a lot less attractive to adult smokers on 11 August. If we are to ever achieve a smokefree country – where only 5% or less of the population smoke – we need to support smokers to quit, not take the best tools away,” concluded Loucas.
To make a submission by 5,00pm on 15 March, visit https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/smokefree-environments-and-regulated-products-act-1990-proposals-regulations