Sales of electronic cigarettes and their nicotine liquid should not be permitted at dairies and supermarkets under proposed legal changes, say Otago University researchers.
They instead want the products, sometimes called electronic nicotine delivery systems, restricted to licensed pharmacies or "vape shops".
It is a "historical anomaly", they say, that tobacco, an addictive product, can be sold by any kind of shop, including dairies, supermarkets, petrol stations and liquor stores. This has led to "not infrequent law breaking, eg, illegal sales to young people by outlets such as dairies".
Restricting e-cigarette sales to only community pharmacies ... [could] probably help reduce youth experimentation.
"Vaping" is inhaling from an e-cigarette, a battery-powered heating device that produces a vapour containing nicotine.
The Health Ministry is calling for submissions by 5pm next Monday on its proposal to legalise and regulate the sale of nicotine e-cigarettes. They are at present in a legal grey area. Domestic sales are technically illegal, but some shops sell the products anyway and the ministry does not enforce the law. The only lawful sales are internet imports for personal use.
The ministry now acknowledges that "there is general scientific consensus that the use of e-cigarettes is less harmful for smokers if they completely switch".
Its proposal is for an R18 age limit for e-cigarette sales, restrictions on advertising, and a ban on use in smoke-free places such as inside bars and other workplaces.
Professor Nick Wilson and colleagues at Otago University say the ministry proposal does not cover retailer licensing, nor who should be permitted to sell e-cigarettes.
They argue in their Public Health Expert blog post today for a "regulated retail environment, such as should apply to all addictive substances" - including tobacco.
The proposed changes to e-cigarettes is an opportunity, they say, to introduce a licensing system for sellers of both e-cigarettes and tobacco.
Licensing of e-cigarette vendors would help control the proposed R18 age restriction and allow monitoring of staff competence to advise on how to use an e-cigarette to quit smoking and referral of customers to other quit-smoking assistance.
"Restricting e-cigarette sales to only community pharmacies would frame this product as a smoking cessation aid or, at the very least, a harm-reduction strategy for long-term users. Importantly, it would ameliorate perceptions of e-cigarettes as a recreational drug and could therefore probably help reduce youth experimentation.
"Licensed vape shops might offer better service than pharmacies by featuring a more extensive product range and providing first hand advice on e-cigarette use.
"Enthusiastic 'vapers' who work in existing vape shops could offer important experience, given the complex nature of some e-cigarette devices."
However, Christchurch public health specialist and e-cigarette researcher Dr Murray Laugesen said liberalisation of e-cigarette sales was needed to make the most of their abilities to help reduce the harms of smoking.
He said restricting sales to pharmacies only would push up the prices of the devices.