The Ministry of Health has submitted a written submission to the Health Select Committee, dismissing a Parliamentary petition signed by 17,357 Kiwis supporting ongoing access to vape flavours.
Petition organiser, Nancy Loucas, who is co-director of Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy (AVCA), says the Ministry of Health’s submission is very disappointing given vaping is New Zealand’s most effective smoking cessation tool.
She is now calling on new Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall and new Health Select Committee Dr Liz Craig – both public health experts – to follow the evidence, not the emotion.
With the Government’s vaping legislation passed last year, it’s proposed that for general retail such as supermarkets, service stations and convenience stores, vape flavours will be limited to just three – mint, menthol, and tobacco.
Only registered specialist vape stores will be able to sell a wider range of flavours. Ms Loucas says that penalises Kiwis trying to quit smoking in provincial and rural areas, all while deadly cigarettes remain available in general retail.
Commenting on the petition and AVCA’s supporting supplementary submission, the Ministry of Health says it ‘does not support any further expansion, via regulation, of the available flavours sold by generic retailers at this point in time. Our recommendation is that the provisions should come into force as intended on 11 August 2021.’
However, Ms Loucas says public health entities, including ASH and Hapai Te Hauora, strongly support flavours, choices, and options for smokers desperate to quit cigarettes.
“We know vapers quit smoking with fruit and dessert flavours, not tobacco, menthol, or mint flavours, as they are not looking for a cigarette taste but to move away from cigarettes,” Ms Loucas wrote in her supplementary submission to the select committee.
The tobacco harm reduction advocate says the Ministry’s logic for limiting flavours is flawed, and they wrongly cite overseas statistics which do not resemble New Zealand’s reality.
For example, the Ministry points to the high use of flavoured vapes by school students in the United States. However, last year after examining the data from over 27,000 Kiwi students, University of Auckland researchers confirmed there was no youth vaping epidemic in New Zealand. They found that only 0.8% of 14 and 15 year olds were regular vapers.
She says after taking so long to regulate vaping, it’s obvious the Ministry is now keen to just push on through and not break its self-imposed timeframes.
“Consumers are angry, and the independent industry is looking down the barrel of being run out of existence thanks to unnecessary restrictions, huge fees, and added costs.
“Limiting flavours will defeat the whole purpose of regulation. It will play straight into the hands of Big Tobacco and alarming will see the growth of an underground, unregulated market offloading flavours with no quality standards,” she says.
Ms Loucas says in its submission on her petition, the Ministry of Health acknowledges that ‘non-tobacco flavours facilitate smokers to quit smoking’. However, not actually enabling such facilitation is short-sighted and will make Smokefree New Zealand a harder goal to achieve.
“All is not lost because submissions remain open on the Ministry of Health’s draft vaping regulations, with limiting flavours still to be confirmed ahead of the proposed August implementation,” she says.
Concern is also increasing by smokefree advocates over the Ministry’s determination to ban sweeteners in e-liquids. They view the move as a further flavour ban by small print.
To make a submission on the draft vaping regulations, before 5.00pm on Monday, 15 March, visit https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/smokefree-environments-and-regulated-products-act-1990-proposals-regulations
“Our best chance is the new Associate Health Minister and the new Health Select Committee Chair. My petition signed by over 17,000 Kiwis may have been dismissed by the Ministry, but these two public health experts shouldn’t be in such a rush.
“Let’s not make much safer vaping less attractive to smokers on 11 August,” says Nancy Loucas.
AVCA was formed in 2016 by vapers across New Zealand wanting their voices heard in local and central government. All members are former smokers who promote vaping to help smokers quit – a much less harmful alternative to combustible tobacco products. AVCA does not have any affiliation or vested interest in industry – tobacco, pharmaceutical and/or the local vaping manufacturing or retail sectors.