By John Kerr 29/03/2017

The Government has announced new regulations to allow nicotine containing electronic cigarettes to be sold in New Zealand.

Currently e-cigarette devices can be sold in New Zealand but nicotine-containing e-liquid can not (nicotine is a scheduled substance under the Medicines Act), although consumers can purchase e-liquid from overseas for personal use.

That is set to change with announcement of new regulations to make nicotine e-cigarettes more widely available on New Zealand shelves.

“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,” said Associate Health Minister Nicky Wagner in a media release issued today.

“The Government is taking a cautious approach by aligning the regulations around vaping with those for cigarettes. This ensures cigarette smokers have access to a lower-risk alternative while we continue to discourage people from smoking or vaping in the first place.”

According to the release, new rules for all e-cigarettes, whether or not they contain nicotine, include:

  • Restricting sales to those 18 years and over

  • Prohibiting vaping in indoor workplaces and other areas where smoking is banned under the Smoke-free Environments Act

  • Restricting advertising to limit the attraction of e-cigarettes to non-smokers, especially children and young people.

“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,” Ms Wagner says.

More detail on the e-cigarettes and the proposed regulations can be found on the Ministry of Health website. 

Credit: Flickr / Vaping360

Expert reaction on e-cigarettes

The Science Media Centre has collated rapid reaction from New Zealand experts.

Professor Tony Blakely from the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago was broadly welcoming of the regulations.

“This announcement by the Government is sensible,” he said.  “In particular, the cautious approach to applying the same restrictions to the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes as currently apply for tobacco. E-cigarettes are almost certainly (far) less health damaging that tobacco to humans – at least among people who ‘have to keep using either tobacco or e-cigarettes’.

Prof Blakely also noted that uncertainty remains about many important aspects of long-term used, to both individuals and the population.

“E-cigarettes vary enormously in the chemicals they contain.  There will be some health harm – much less in all likelihood than tobacco.  However, the exact health harm is unknown.  Moreover, we will need long-term follow-up studies in addition to toxicology studies on how different e-cigarettes have different harm profiles depending on the chemicals and nature of the device.”

“E-cigarettes probably increase the chance of someone quitting tobacco altogether, but the exact benefit as a cessation aid needs clarification.

He advocated a cautious approach to the legalisation of e-cigarettes. “For all these reasons,  Ongoing research and monitoring is required. And an ongoing ability to strictly control their sale (e.g. licensed outlets only) has to be considered, in tandem with controls on tobacco.””

University of Otago marketing professor Janet Hoek expressed concern that e-cigarettes will be so widely available for sale in outlets like dairies, service stations and supermarkets.

“Smokers would seem more likely to switch from smoking to vaping if they get expert advice, and it is not clear how dairies, supermarkets or service stations are set up to provide such advice,” she said.

“Specialist vape stores and pharmacies would seem better positioned to provide expert guidance.”

You can read the full commentary from the Science Media Centre here

Featured image: TBEC Review / Wikimedia.