The Government has taken its time to decide e-cigarettes containing nicotine can be sold in New Zealand. The case for allowing them looked conclusive years ago. Nicotine, perhaps contrary to popular belief, is not the carcinogen in conventional cigarettes.

Rather it is the tar and other toxins of burned tobacco that do harm to the lungs. E-cigarettes do not burn tobacco or any other plant, they produce water vapour to carry nicotine to the bloodstream.

Nicotine is the addictive element of smoking, though it is obviously not as addictive as drugs such as heroin and cocaine banned by law.

Possibly the craving for a cigarette also has something to do with the curious comfort and sense of well-being smokers experience from the physical acts of lighting up and drawing smoke into their lungs.


In any case, the addictive qualities of nicotine are apparently not sufficient to justify its prohibition.

Instead, those who opposed the sale of nicotine for delivery in e-cigarettes argued it could encourage more people to enjoy smoking, or "vaping", and become a "gateway" to tobacco.

Others in the anti-smoking lobby argued quite the opposite - that it provided an effective exit from tobacco. The Ministry of Health declined to approve its sale until it could be persuaded vaping was an effective quitting aid.

It does not appear to be convinced. Associate Health Minister Nicky Wagner said the Government had decided to legalise its sale despite the lack of conclusive evidence e-cigarettes were safe. "Around the world we can't get clear research on this," she said, "But we're thinking they are about 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes."

The decision seems right. Unless there is clear evidence of serious harm, regulators should not prohibit a product some people enjoy.

For every person who finds pleasure in vaping there is probably another who finds the very sight of it as unpleasant as smoking. But personal style and taste cannot justify health regulations.

Like smoke, though, exhaled vapour can be seen in the air other people must breath. For their sake, the legislation allowing nicotine to be sold here for e-cigarettes will ban vaping in areas where smoking is also prohibited. Bars and restaurants are not about to be fouled again.

The same restrictions on advertising and the minimum purchasing age (18) will apply, so vaping hopefully does not become a gateway to smoking for the young. It will not face the heavy taxes on tobacco, making e-cigarettes much cheaper.


If nothing else, the law will remove the absurdity whereby nicotine canisters for e-cigarettes can be purchases online and legally used here but cannot be sold over a counter.

It is hard to see why the removal of that anomaly has taken so long. The ministry's reservations about safety made when little sense when the nicotine for the devices could be obtained online.

It appeared to be another example of the anti-smoking lobby's excessive zeal to stamp out not just cigarettes but the whole culture around them. E-cigarettes do not need to be justified as an aid to quit.

Plenty of people want to use them with no intention of quitting because they enjoy nicotine and they have a right to take it in a safer way.