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The Front Page: Has the Government lost control of vaping?

4 May 2022

By: Damien Venuto, Source: NZHerald

Vaping brands arrived in New Zealand under the auspices of helping New Zealanders quit smoking.

And while they have certainly played a role in that, they’ve also contributed to an entirely new generation hooked on nicotine.

NZ Herald health reporter Emma Russell tells Front Page podcast a recent survey shows that one in five secondary school students are addicted to vaping.

“One doctor said to me that this could just be history repeating itself,” says Russell, referencing the fact that cigarettes have essentially been replaced by vaping.

The problem is that research on the long-term impact of vaping is still largely incomplete.

“There are still a lot of unknowns about the health risks linked to vaping because we’re yet to see the long-term effects. A few years ago, there was an outbreak in the US, where we saw a cluster of hospitalisations linked to vaping. These were people with serious lung injuries, but then the companies changed their formula by taking out some of the most harmful chemicals.”

Russell says that the biggest concern right now is nicotine addiction.

“A respiratory specialist I spoke to said there’s a strong link between nicotine addiction, depression, ADHD problems and difficulties with learning and memory. That again is another concern. And we also do know that any damage to the lung tissues means increased risk of diseases such as cancer and heart disease.”

Vaping companies were granted smooth entry into the New Zealand market on the basis that they had been shown around the world to play a vital role in getting people to stop smoking, but the downsides appear to have been underestimated.

“Young people becoming addicted to vaping was a concern right from the get-go. And the Government did promise that young people would be protected, but we can clearly see that that hasn’t happened.”

One of the most obvious signs of this can be identified in the location of vaping stores around the country.

“Last year, we pulled out data showing all the locations of vape stores around New Zealand and we compared that to the locations of schools. From that, we saw examples of some schools being surrounded by up to five vape stores – so it’s pretty hard to avoid. It’s not like these stores are tucked around the corner. They’re in plain view and they’re made to look appealing.”

Vape shops near Hamilton Girls’ High School

Six vape shops within a short walking distance from Hamilton Girls’ High School

Business in the industry is booming. Vape chain Shosha announced the opening of its 100th outlet last month – not that far off McDonald’s spread of 167 stores.

“It’s pretty remarkable,” says Russell.

“Some people have argued that if it was a tool to help people quit smoking then why isn’t it in the hands of health professionals that can give out support and advice? Seeing how widespread these stores are just shows how much money there is involved in the market and how hard it has been to control.”

Russell says that the problem with regulating vape stores is that followed the rapid retail expansion.

“By the time Government introduced regulation, vape stores were already widespread. So it was almost like they were pushing water uphill.”

The Government is sticking to its goal of having New Zealand 95 per cent smoke-free by 2025, but that milestone has a significant exclusion.

“Vaping doesn’t fit into the smoke-free 2025 plan,” says Russell.

“I think that’s actually been the biggest flaw in the Government’s plan is that there is no plan to help people stop vaping once they have weaned off smoking. And whether there is any political will do so remains unclear.”

With vaping products now widely available across the country, Russell says emphasis needs to be placed on education.

“I think we should pull back on how much we are marketing and how accessible vaping is, especially for young people. There also needs to be real education within schools to teach kids about the potential dangers and what we don’t know about vaping.

“There also needs to be more research into how vaping could relate to specific diseases and we need a better understanding about how the lungs are impacted by vaping.”

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