For several years, New Zealand's vape industry has been calling for regulation. It was somewhat frustrating then when Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, issued a media statement recently claiming that vape companies were "coming together to stop restrictions".
Good on the National Party for offering its cross-party support as the Government looks to introduce its Smoke-free Environments (Vaping) Amendment Bill into Parliament soon.
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However, the party for small business and Smokefree New Zealand will soon spot fishhooks in what Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa is now indicating she will table.
Bridges' statement followed about 50 of us vape retailers up and down the country relaunching the Vaping Trade Association of New Zealand (VTANZ).
Sure, we are an industry fighting back, but it's not about stopping restrictions. Rather it's about protecting the survival of most effective smoking cessation tool the country has ever seen.
We've never argued that vaping is harmless, but we do point to international research that confirms it's 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco. Smoking-related illnesses kill approximately 5000 Kiwis a year, but no vaping-related deaths have been reported in this country.
The Ministry of Health, Health Promotion Agency, Quitline New Zealand, Ash (Action for Smokefree 2025), and public health leader Hapai Te Hauora all promote vaping as an effective and safe way for smokers to quit tobacco.
Chairman of Ash, Emeritus Professor Robert Beaglehole, cautioned in a TV interview recently against an over-reaction, saying "let's make sure that these effective, safe and much less harmful products are widely available".
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In other words, as a country, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. However, that's exactly what may soon happen, if the likes of the National Party don't moderate parts of a bill that inevitably will reflect the media's newfound emotion, not the established scientific evidence.
The negative media coverage out of the US is concerning, but it remains unrelated.
My fellow VTANZ spokesperson, Ben Pryor, summed up it best when he said: "If our government was to come down hard on our trusted products and professional local vape businesses, it would be like waving a big regulatory stick over Lion and DB Breweries after bootleg moonshine had poisoned some drinkers in America."
US federal health agency The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued an update on the so-called vaping-related illnesses in the US. The primary culprit now seems to be the street sales of unregulated and illegal THC-tainted vape cartridges.
Our own Ministry of Health confirmed on September 30 that "to date there are no signs of similar concerns in New Zealand". It advised that "vapers who are concerned about the safety of vaping should not return to smoking, which is far more harmful".
Public Health England is also worried smokers might be scared off vaping. It categorically stated that "there is no situation where it would be better for your health to continue smoking rather than switching completely to vaping".
Like the Government and Opposition, VTANZ is totally supportive of the implementation of a world-class product standards and safety regime to protect New Zealand consumers.
We've also been quick to reinforce the ministry's advice to "buy vaping products from a reputable retailer and do not risk vaping home-made or illicit products".
Until now, as an emerging unregulated local industry we've implemented our own voluntary code around standards. However, officially and explicitly sanctioned rules can't come soon enough.
The Ministry of Health has indicated the proposed regulations will prohibit harmful ingredients, set quality standards for ingredients, as well as set standards for refill containers and devices. This is all long overdue.
We also support the Government coming down hard on youth-marketing and entrenching an R18 age of purchase.
The fact that the Government has now indicated it will take the legislation much further is what concerns us. Prohibiting all marketing, banning the most successful flavours for adults, and dramatically capping nicotine levels will only see fewer Kiwis give up smoking.
With no ties to Big Tobacco, independent Kiwi vape entrepreneurs and retailers have come together not to stop restrictions, but to constructively advocate for the survival of something we passionately believe in.
Vaping is the largest reason why New Zealand's smoking rates have fallen in recent years. In Australia, where vaping is heavily restricted, smoking rates are not moving.
Let's not abandon the best chance we have of one day being a smoke-free country. Our friends, colleagues and family wanting to quit tobacco, now and in the future, are well worth the fight.
• Jonathan Devery is a spokesperson for VTANZ, and co-owner of Vapo and Alt New Zealand