Banning 70% of vape products will only exacerbate smoking in New Zealand

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Today–11August–marks the first day that New Zealand general retailers cannot sell a wide range of vape flavours. One industry leader says the move will sadly result in more cigarette sales–hampering Smokefree Aotearoa but boosting the government’s rapidly diminishing tobacco tax take.

General retailers include service stations, supermarkets and convenance stores. As part of the vaping legislation Parliament passed last year, general retailers are now only permitted to sell three vape flavours: Menthol, mint, and tobacco.

“It’s crazy that Kiwis desperate to quit cigarettes can walk into a service station and buy any cigarette brand under the sun. They can’t, however, access the most popular vapes flavours. It makes no sense when vaping has been proven to be 95% less harmful than smoking,” says Jonathan Devery, co-owner of the largest Kiwi-owned vape companies, Alt New Zealand and VAPO.

He says the regulatory change will make it less likely for Kiwi smokers to make the safer switch, opting for the more readily available cigarettes instead.

Both ex-smokers, Mr Devery and fellow business partner Ben Pryor believe the Government needs to monitor this new restriction like a hawk to ensure it’s not hampering its Smokefree Aotearoa reboot.  

“The latest service station industry data shows that tobacco sales–both in terms of volume and value – have been falling like a stone. It’s only because safer nicotine alternatives like ours have been on a rapid ascent. After achieving record low smoking rates, a return to cigarette smoking would be an absolute disaster,” says Mr Devery.

Leading the charge against smoking and Big Tobacco, the independent New Zealand vape business has catapulted in the past two years to becoming one of the largest suppliers – of all products supplied – to the country’s service stations.

“Tobacco tax takings have been completely walloped by vaping, as Budget 2021 showed. It’s then a very interesting time to eliminate 70% of vaping products from the same general retail outlets that have traditionally been a cash cow for tobacco revenue,” says Mr Devery.

The entrepreneurs believe it’s well overdue for the Government to get tougher on Big Tobacco via its soon to be released smokefree action plan. As it stands, less harmful vaping remains more heavily regulated.

Unlike cigarette retailers, specialist vape stores have to be registered, enabling them to sell a wide range of flavours. With fewer dedicated vape stores in the likes of rural areas, Alt and VAPO’s owners believe many Kiwis trying to reduce or quit their cigarette habit will only find it harder.

“Adults love flavours. They are key to successfully quitting cigarettes! Banning the most popular vape flavours like dessert and fruit variations in New Zealand’s highest traffic retail outlets, but leaving cigarette availability alone, makes no sense. Unless the Government is after a tobacco tax boost, it now needs to hit access to tobacco, and hard!” 

“We eagerly await the Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall’s finalised Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan. If New Zealand is to ever achieve smokefree, the balance must be tilted in favour of safer nicotine alternatives,” says Jonathan Devery.

Meanwhile, the country’s leading consumer vaping advocacy says the vape flavour ban for general retailers will sadly cost lives, making it harder for adults desperate to quit smoking.

With the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Act passing last year, general retailers such as supermarkets, service stations and convenience stores can now only sell three flavours – mint, menthol and tobacco.

Smokers and ex-smokers wanting to access the most popular adult flavours, such as fruit and dessert, will need to find a registered specialist vape store online or in person.

“If we are to reduce tobacco harm in society, we need to ensure assess to safer nicotine alternatives like vaping is easier, not harder. This is a totally misguided move that won’t help the kids and only punishes the adult Kiwis desperate to quit the cancer sticks,” says Nancy Loucas, co-director of the Government Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy (AVCA).

Ms Loucas says big steps have already been taken to safeguard New Zealand’s minors from accessing vaping.

Since the vaping legislation was passed in 2020, it has been illegal to sell vapes and vaping liquids to anyone under 18 years of age. Consumer marketing and advertising has been banned, with much tougher rules around the likes of packaging, displays and signage.

“A full range of cigarettes and tobacco products remain widely available in supermarkets, service stations and dairies. Yet, from 11 August, adults can’t readily access their favourite vape flavours from those same retailers. Full access to deadly combustible cigarettes and limited access to safer alternatives is a shocking public health policy,” she says.

AVCA has long supported the formalisation of vaping as an R18 activity and mandatory product safety standards. However, it describes this latest regulation as over the top and hitting the wrong target.

“Point of sale is where the Government needs to get tough. Some serious penalties now apply for retailers who sell to minors. The Government needs to move from educating retailers about the new laws to enforcement,” she says.

Ms Loucas says the overwhelming number of retailers are responsible, requesting age identification. Any who aren’t, need the book thrown at them.

AVCA now looks forward to Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall’s soon to be released Smokefree Aotearoa action plan.

“Key to getting New Zealand back on track with its 10-year smokefree ambition is elevating vaping as the go-to smoking cessation tool. Ensuring fair adult access to a wide range of vape products needs to be a big part of it.

“If this latest move slows down our national goal to be smokefree, as AVCA predicts, then the Government’s needs to be prepared to do the right thing and reverse it,” 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.

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