A paean, or song of praise, for our large neighbour across the Tasman. Recently the Australian government decided enough was enough and introduced a range of new restrictions on vapes. Despite them already being illegal for many, under new legislation they would become available by prescription only.
But New Zealand, despite its generally good record of being at the forefront of health and social policy change, has so far declined to take effective action against vaping.
Vaping supporters have long argued that the e-cigarettes help people to quit smoking. And I have family members now who have switched to vapes to reduce their smoking and are pleased with their decisions.
The reality is cigarette sales have steadily gone down largely as a result of growing awareness of their health dangers, government restrictions, and negative reporting of the danger they pose.
As a result, ‘Big Tobacco’ – the major tobacco corporates – have increasingly switched to vapes with their attractive candy colours and appealing flavours to attract younger people who no longer wish to smoke cigarettes.
But Australia’s government said evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers quit was insufficient for now. Instead, research showed it could push young vapers into taking up smoking later in life.
A key reason is that vapes usually contain a high percentage of nicotine, known to be a key addictive substance. As Philip Morris principal scientist WL Dunn said in 1972, “No one has ever become a cigarette smoker by smoking cigarettes without nicotine,” according to online site Truth Initiative.
To declare a personal interest: I am a recovered smoker and have managed to maintain that status for a few years by keeping in mind that I’m only a couple of cigarettes away from a return of the habit – as I proved to myself by many failed quitting attempts over previous years.
In my defence, I grew up in an era when members of my family smoked, public places were smoke-filled, and cafes and restaurants were replete with ashtrays piled with smouldering butts.
Still, all kudos to Australia. In fact worldwide, depending which list you read, and allowing for the fact that smugglers defeat many countries’ best intentions, as many as 40 or so countries worldwide have already banned vaping.
I have considerable sympathy for the hard-pressed small dairies of our towns, which are already in many cases trying to survive a flurry of ram raids by school-age offenders. Many shops have now maxed out on vaping products and reduced their sales of cigarettes. And I’m concerned at the considerable proliferation of vape specialty shops in our towns and cities.
Vapes, or e-cigarettes, are basically lithium battery-powered devices that have cartridges filled with liquids containing nicotine, artificial flavourings, and other chemicals. When the liquid is heated it gives off a vapour that is inhaled into the smoker’s lungs.
As any observer knows, we are talking about a considerable volume of smoke. Even those of us who are not especially scientific, can conclude that the ingestion of that much smoke – however cutely flavoured – is unlikely to be beneficial to the health of users or bystanders.
Paralleling the slow decline in tobacco product sales, vaping took off from the mid-2000s and there were some 81 million vapers worldwide in 2021, according to the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction group.
Accelerating the rise was the growing popularity of the flavoured vapes designed specifically to appeal to the young.
As is evident in the spate of media coverage on the issue, vapes are causing a problem as a result of their growing and overt usage in New Zealand schools.
The various nicotine gums and other paraphernalia designed to help people quit smoking are not wildly successful. No surprise then that big tobacco – already a veteran of marketing, with worldwide manufacturing and retail distribution expertise – has ramped up production and distribution of its ‘fun’ electronic device.
But please be aware that this could ultimately prove to encourage an even more addictive and potentially lethal habit than tobacco.
Related: Appalling or enthralling?