Smokers are being encouraged to switch to vaping when the Government's grip on their wallets tightens with a tobacco tax hike tomorrow.
The excise tax increases by 10 per cent tomorrow are part of a series of annual rises, the last of which, on the current plan, will be on January 1, 2020.
Quitline is expecting an influx of calls and text messages for support to give up smoking as the new year begins tomorrow. Early January is its busiest time. It says many people commit to quitting as a New Year resolution and it is a time when many people focus on the cost of the habit.
"Whanau who are wanting to learn more about vaping or going smokefree can contact Quitline," said Mihi Blair, general manager of tobacco control at Hapai te Hauora, a Maori public health organisation.
The organisation is urging smokers to vape as a way of quitting smoking.
"Wahine Maori say vaping is the way to beat tobacco tax increases and kick smoking this summer," the group said.
The Maori adult daily smoking rate is 33 per cent, compared with 14 per cent for adults across all ethnicities. The Government's "smokefree" target is for the nation's rate to fall below about 5 per cent by 2025.
Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa has said vaping is less harmful than smoking and has noted that it is cheaper too.
A packet of 20 cigarettes costs more than $20, and some brands more than $25.
Vaping involves inhaling a vapour from a battery-powered electronic cigarette, as opposed to the smoke of a burning cigarette. The quantity of nicotine per puff in an e-cigarette can be adjusted, or users can choose to have none.
Mother-of-two Mel Morris said switching from her long-term smoking habit to vaping had given her a new financial and physical freedom. She became debt-free and she saved hundreds of dollars within months.
"Before Christmas, I went with my daughter and bought her a Christmas outfit with the savings money from being smokefree. I love it - I feel so proud and seeing the kid's reaction like 'wow Mum, really? It's so expensive' - but I can do it now."
Hineatua Smith, who is pregnant, said giving up smoking during pregnancy was hard.
"I don't think I could have done it so easily without the vape."
Some public health researchers have in the past warned that nicotine vaping could be a gateway to smoking for young people.
Blair said there was no evidence of this in the latest year 10 school survey by Action on Smoking and Health. There was some experimentation by young people but no significant uptake of vaping.
The ASH survey found 29 per cent of the year 10 students reported having tried an e-cigarette in 2017, although only 2 per cent were daily users. Smokers were five times more likely than never-smokers to have tried an e-cigarette. Two per cent of the students smoked daily.
Blair said vaping was definitely helping Maori women to break the tobacco/nicotine habit.
"They can start reducing nicotine and then quit. We have seen really good results.
"Pregnant Maori women, when they have tried all other alternatives, vaping would be a resort they can try."
Salesa has said the Smokefree Environments Act will be amended in 2019 to include vaping. While less harmful than smoking, vaping was not risk-free, so it had to be made as safe as possible and young people had to be protected from taking it up.