Putting Smokers’ Health First: New Zealand Legalizes Nicotine E-Liquid
New Zealand has moved to legalize e-cigarettes with nicotine, pushing aside anti-vaping talking points and putting smokers first. With the new plan to regulate nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, the government is showing its willingness to follow the evidence and help smokers who can’t quit nicotine have full access to reduced harm alternatives. For vapers and smokers in New Zealand, the move is a glimmer of hope in a long-fought battle, and for Australians, it’s an important reminder of the compelling argument for ditching the illogical ban still in force there.
New Zealand’s Vaping Laws Before the Change
The law on e-cigarettes in New Zealand was a lot like the laws in Australia. While e-cigarettes were technically legal – and there were vape stores – nicotine-containing e-juices or cartridges were banned from sale. However, unlike Queensland in Australia, where you can’t even own a nicotine-containing e-liquid or cartridge, you could import nicotine-containing liquids for personal use in New Zealand. This is generally interpreted to mean you could import up to 3 months’ worth of nicotine-containing e-liquids.
There were also some other rules. One ensured that no e-cigarette (with nicotine or not) could be sold that made the therapeutic claim that it could help smokers quit. Technically, companies could apply to have their devices approved for medical use as a quit smoking aid, but none have attempted it. Other rules prevent the sale of anything that looks like a tobacco product to anybody under the age of 18. Indoor vaping was not prohibited by the government, though.
This all left New Zealand’s vapers in limbo. E-cigarettes were technically legal (and the rules weren’t always enforced), but since nicotine is really central to their success, it wasn’t always easy to make it work. The problem wasn’t so much for dedicated vapers – who already have the motivation to pick up some nicotine-containing juices – but for the smokers. If you were just interested in trying vaping, would you be as likely to go to the effort of ordering something from overseas? Chances are, you’d give a nicotine-free option a go but quickly end up smoking again.
What’s Changing for Vapers in New Zealand?
In a nutshell, the prohibition on sales of nicotine-containing e-liquid is being lifted. The aim, according to associate health minister Nicky Wagner, is to ensure that “cigarette smokers have access to a lower-risk alternative while we continue to discourage people from smoking or vaping in the first place.” To strike this balance, they’re aiming for a “cautious approach” to vaping, which includes:
- Prohibiting sales to under 18s.
- Banning vaping wherever smoking is currently banned.
- Placing some restrictions on advertising to minimize the appeal of e-cigarettes to young people.
However, Wagner stressed that many of the restrictions currently placed on cigarettes will not be placed on vaping devices. This includes the excise tax currently applied to cigarettes, and e-cigarettes won’t be required to be sold in plain packaging.
Vaping devices will only be allowed in restricted “R18” stores – which under 18s are not allowed to enter. Within the stores, the companies will be able to display devices and juices openly – including in the store window – and to offer discounts, loyalty rewards and free samples. However, marketing via billboards, radio, TV and the internet will be restricted.
While some of the rules are fairly harsh, particularly the indoor vaping bans and strong marketing restrictions, it’s good news for New Zealand’s vapers and smokers on the whole.
Following the Evidence on Vaping
Like when Public Health England came out and backed vaping as 95% safer than smoking, it’s always nice to see some common sense from governments on e-cigarettes. Nicky Wagner expressly backed vaping as 95% safer when announcing the decision, and said:
“Scientific evidence on the safety of e-cigarettes is still developing but there’s a general consensus that vaping is much less harmful than smoking. This is an opportunity to see if restricted access to e-cigarettes and e-liquid can help lower our smoking rates, reduce harm and save lives.”
This is exactly the sort of clarity we need in the US, and what the smokers and vapers of Australia need too. The journalists hit on the typical anti-vaping talking points when questioning Wagner, but were met with measured, sensible responses. For example, one asked about the carcinogens in e-cigarettes, and while she didn’t out-and-out rebut the argument, she basically brushed it off, saying it was something that “would be looked at.” This, combined with the endorsement of the “95% safer” message, really suggests that they’re looking into setting some (hopefully) reasonable limits on trace components.
In response to another question, she also rejected the idea of a gateway:
“Well, we’ve done a lot of work and looked at research around the world; there’s been no evidence that vaping is a gateway to smoking.”
More broadly, she acknowledged youth vaping as a concern but stressed that the proposed restrictions were likely to be enough. Wagner also pointed out that vape stores around the country have been completely on-board with protecting youth, and have refused to sell to anybody under 18, calling them “pretty responsible.”
It wasn’t perfect – for example, she justified the vaping ban by saying it was to “denormalize” smoking – but their approach followed the evidence where it matters most.
A Wake-Up Call to Australia on Vaping
Meanwhile, in Australia, the ban on sales of nicotine-containing e-liquids continues, while cigarettes are still legally available. New Zealand’s move shines a spotlight on this, shifting to a more progressive approach and leaving its neighbor looking pretty behind the times.
Recently, Australia has rejected an attempt to remove nicotine from the poisons list that lands vaping it’s in unusual legal position there. They’re basically standing by their original position on the issue: the only way you can get nicotine is with cigarettes or medicinal nicotine replacement products.
The simple truth is that this situation just doesn’t make sense. Why should it be easier to maintain a smoking habit than a vaping one? How can that be reconciled with widespread statements that vaping is substantially safer than smoking? If smokers want to quit by vaping instead of chewing gum, why should anybody stop them?
New Zealand was in the same situation, and now they’ve taken the sensible step to end it. They haven’t thrown caution to the wind and risked the health of their youth, but they have given their smokers a reduced harm option that could change their lives for the better.
The only question is how long Australia will wait – watching as the nightmare scenarios concocted by anti-vaping advocates continually fail to materialize in NZ, but more and smokers quit – until they do the same.