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In Seeking the Truth, you have to get both sides of the Story – Politicking

Now lets focus on the two ministers who are ultimately responsible for the introduction and implementation, via the Ministry of Health, of regulation around nicotine flavoured e liquid, equipment and the retail market requirements for this.

Up until the outbreak of “respiratory illnesses” in the United States in early September, New Zealand was headed towards risk proportionate regulation based upon recommendations from the Technical Expert Advisory Committee commissioned by the Ministry of Health, as well as advice from experts such as the head of ASH NZ, Dr. Robert Beaglehole and Dr Chris Bullen who is the lead THR researcher at the University of Auckland.  Data from Studies in NZ such as this and this on the risk/benefits of vaping and how it can assist NZ towards reaching the SmokeFree 2025 mandate.  The Ministry of Health and the Health Promotion Agency were on board to launch a programme to assist smokers to vaping in October.

Then the epidemic from the United States hit our shores via the media.  At the same time, we were made aware that representatives from Juul (the accused main antagonist responsible for the “youth epidemic of vaping” stateside) were in Wellington for “high level meetings” around the regulatory process.  We know they have used the same script/plan with success in Canada, the Philippines, India and Indonesia. The vaping consumer advocate world is small indeed, especially with social media being the main avenue of communication and information sharing.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and Hon Salesa is announcing that flavoured nicotine e liquid will be restricted to menthol, mint and tobacco only.  In the news the switch to vaping programme to be run by the Ministry of Health via the Health Promotion Agency was to be suspended and not launch on 1 October so as to not interfere in influencing the regulatory process for legalisation. 

Except what the ministers do not realise (or probably doesn’t care to realise) is that the vaping consumers in New Zealand are painfully aware that any time Juul seeks to enter a market, (Canada, India, Philippines, Indonesia) they approach the government, via a consultant (to get around those pesky Article 5.3 requirements as a signatory to the WHO FCTC) and offer to restrict flavours to menthol, mint, and tobacco as a “peace offering” to get in the good graces of the officials to promote smoking cessation via vape.  And then those countries immediately seek to limit flavoured nicotine e liquid to mint, menthol and tobacco. The grassroots consumer advocacy world is small and information is shared rather openly.

Juul was even mentioned in the “proclamation” from Michael Bloomberg at the same time as a  $160M initiative with TobaccoFreeKids to ban flavored e-cigarettes in the wake of the vape illness scandal (which, as was mentioned in the previous post, had nothing to do with flavoured e liquids and everything to do with illegal THC cartridges) to combat youth nicotine addiction. 

If the Ministers are so concerned about NOT repeating the same situation here with youth vaping, the solution is very simple, require that Juul is only distributed through an official distribution channel to their own branded shops so that they can maintain a closer eye on the product and its supply chain/distribution.  Make them invest in creating jobs and revenue for the crown at the same time as keeping a tight rein on their activities and the access to the product. This way if “Juuling” becomes a problem amongst our youth, it can be contained.  

Reality is that Juul is not what the majority of vapers in Aotearoa use or have used to stop smoking.  Just the facts, from a consumer advocacy organisation that represents 100,000 vapers in Aotearoa.

Alas, probably to fall on deaf ears.  Both the Minister of Health David Clark and Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa have excluded the consumers of safer nicotine products, such as vaping, from the narrative on how best to approach regulation and legislation.   To the point where Clark has publicly refused to engage with consumer advocates on his Facebook page (post from 3Sept19 at 8:31am) on proposed regulations, and Salesa blocked, on social media, all consumer THR advocates in New Zealand and abroad within two weeks of her appointment to the Tobacco Control portfolio.

What neither of the aforementioned Ministers are acknowledging is that the CONSUMERS went to the Ministry of Health to ask for regulation to protect the public, including children, from the possible risks of an unregulated market.  It was the CONSUMERS who provided MPs access to overseas experts to answer questions, and it was the CONSUMERS who provided information, peer reviewed science and expert opinion to get the Ministry of Health to proceed with regulation. 

The latest revelation that has come out is that there will be an attempt to push the regulations through in an expedited manner, circumventing the public consultation process and hoping to get a first reading on her proposed legislation by November.  

We certainly hope that is a false allegation as there is no reason to subjugate due process on this issue.  The precedent of banning automatic weapons in the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre does not apply to this issue.   There is no epidemic of either youth vaping or illnesses related to flavoured nicotine e liquid. Regardless of how many stories the media republishes and rehashes from overseas, the facts remain as they always have here in New Zealand. 

It would be foolhardy to attempt to implement anything beyond risk proportionate regulation – not only to enable a chance for people to switch away from combustible tobacco and thereby give us a chance at reaching SmokeFree 2025, but also as a public health precedent that will influence other countries in the Asia Pacific region on what good policy looks like and how it works.

It would be a public health failure of epic proportions for Aotearoa to implement measures that will only serve to develop and grow a black market for flavoured nicotine e liquid and equipment that will have no control or guarantees under the Consumer Guarantees Act that may lead us into the same issues that are currently occurring in the United States down the line.

We are better than this.  The consumers of New Zealand have done their part, it is time for the Ministers to do theirs and regulate safer nicotine products such as e liquid vaping with an eye towards best practice, product quality/control and accessibility to a plethora of options to ensure success away from combustible tobacco.

Nancy Loucas

Nancy Loucas

Nancy comes from a diverse administrative background that includes surgical research administration, teaching (primary and tertiary level), executive administration and community property management. For over 15 years she has been very active in community advocacy with youth, lower income folk needing advocacy and now, vaping advocacy. She brings a wealth of scientific, medical and research administrative/management knowledge with her to her role as CEO/Director at AVCA.

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