Joel Liva Benegas used to smoke 60 cigarettes a day and once rode 17 kilometres through Sweden on a child's bicycle to buy more when he had run out.

But he's cut down dramatically since taking up vaping, and his son's health has improved as a result. He says others can do the same _ as long as they want to.

Wednesday is World Smokefree Day, celebrating New Zealand's progress toward becoming a non-smoking nation. The motto this year is: "It's about whānau" - protecting family from secondhand smoke.

Which fits with Mr Liva Benegas' story. The Whanganui man started smoking at around 18, and built up to 60 cigarettes a day. He made sure he had cigarettes even when there was no money for food.


He thought he would stop when his first son, Arne, was born ... but he didn't. Then he thought he would stop when his second son, Moata, was born, but he didn't then, either.

He would never smoke in the house or car, and kept his distance from the children when smoking outdoors. But Moata had a sensitive throat and suffered from laryngitis about twice a month.

Mr Liva Benegas and his wife and children were living in Argentina in May 2014, when they made a 2000km journey to see relations. He was under pressure to quit, and an aunt offered him an electric cigarette.

He didn't like it, but was won over when it allowed him to smoke while on the long journey home in the car.

"It was the simple fact that I could use it inside the house and in the car and around my family without harming them," he said.

He moved to vaping and used nicotine and other flavours in his vapour mixes. Within a month he was down to five cigarettes a day, and soon after that it was two a week.

Then he gave up cigarettes altogether. He still uses a small amount of nicotine in his mixes, but said nicotine is not what kills cigarette smokers.

Moata, now five, hasn't had an attack of laryngitis for about a year. His doctor said the smoking must have been affecting him, even though his dad had kept it distant.

Mr Liva Benegas now sells vaping gear through Facebook, and coaches people new to using it. He said he was keen to help people quit cigarettes, but they had to have that will.

Selling nicotine-based substances for vaping is illegal in New Zealand, but people can import them. Parliament has yet to decide on rules around vaping and e-cigarettes, Whanganui District Health Board tobacco control health promoter Sarah Hawken said.

She has heard vaping can help people stop smoking, but said the long term effect of vaping on health is still unknown and the board could not endorse it.

++ The region's new amalgamated stop smoking service is having an open day today, to mark World Smokefree Day. The clinic at the corner of Whanganui's Ingestre and Wicksteed sts will be open from 10.30 to 4pm with prizes and giveaways.

++ Today is also the first day to make nominations for the inaugural Tariana Turia Award for tobacco control. It's for people who have made a major contribution to tobacco control for indigenous people. Nominations close on September 1.