New Zealand plans to regulate vaping and smokeless tobacco products to help smokers quit cigarettes while reducing associated public-health risks, in a move bound to add to pressure on Australian regulators.
The announcement comes soon after the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists issued a call for the legalisation of vaping as a harm-reduction measure.
New Zealand Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa said laws would be amended next year to give smokers “more confidence” in the quality of vaping and smokeless tobacco products.
“We are supporting New Zealanders to be healthier by helping smokers switch to safer products, and at the same time protecting people who don’t smoke, especially young people,” she said.
The changes would ban vaping and smokeless tobacco products in places such as bars, restaurants and workplaces, as is already the case for cigarettes. Retailers of vaping products would be subject to similar display and advertising rules as for tobacco, while the ban on sales to under 18-year-olds would continue.
New Zealand health authorities have accepted that vaping was a significantly less harmful alternative to smoking and had been used an effective tool to quit smoking.
“However, it is not completely risk free and that’s why we need to make it as safe as possible and protect young people from taking it up. Vaping is also cheaper and this is important because people on low incomes have some of the highest smoking rates,” Ms Salesa said.
The Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association (ATHRA) said the New Zealand approach struck a “sensible balance” between helping smokers to switch to safer nicotine products and protecting the public.
“The progress in New Zealand highlights how far Australia is falling behind best practice by denying safer alternatives to smokers who are unable to quit,” ATHRA chairman, Associate Professor Colin Mendelsohn, said.
‘Tobacco harm reduction is barely recognised in Australia. Australian governments take a quit-or-die approach to smoking and a punitive approach to smokers.”
The New Zealand move is part of a plan to become smoke-free by 2025, though further public comment on the regulations will be invited. In 2016-17, 13.8% of NZ adults were daily smokers, down from 14.2% in 2015-16 and 18.3% the previous year.
The RANZCP paper said psychiatrists supported the legalisation and regulation of e-cigarettes and other vaporised nicotine products for harm reduction, in light of the prevalence of smoking and low quit rates among people living with mental illness.
The paper, released in October, cited an Australian study that found 70% of patients with mental illness were smokers, as were 61% of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“People living with mental illness are more likely to smoke tobacco and smoke more heavily than the general population. This is the leading cause of the poorer health and mortality outcomes suffered by this group,” it said.
“Tobacco harm reduction is an essential component of any framework that aims to improve health outcomes for people who smoke tobacco.”