Alarmist media stories on vaping are politically timed to inflict the most damage on a practice that’s saving thousands of New Zealanders’ lives, claims a leading Tobacco Harm Reduction advocate.
Her comments follow a frontpage nationwide newspaper story, headlined ‘Vaping – at 10’.
“Why don’t we see ‘Smoking – at 10’, ‘Drinking – at 10’, ‘Drugs – at 10’ media stories? It’s all about vaping, which is ironic given it’s the least harmful,” says Nancy Loucas, co-director of Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy (AVCA).
AVCA believes the publication of increasingly negative vaping stories is no accident.
“Just when Cabinet is about to approve the Ministry of Health’s latest vaping regulations and finalise Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall’s smokefree action plan, out come the attacks on vaping. Given vaping is New Zealand’s most effective smoking cessation tool, some balance in the debate is well and truly overdue,” says Ms Loucas.
She says while reported youth vaping anecdotes are deeply concerning and unacceptable, they’re not supported by any significant empirical evidence to date.
What’s more, last year’s Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Act axed all vaping advertising and made youth access much harder, as well as ensures tougher regulations around packaging, promotions, and displays.
Flavour restrictions for general retailers will also come into effect in August – a move which AVCA strongly disagrees with, believing it will only make it harder for adult smokers to successful quit deadly combustible cigarettes.
“After examining a survey of over 27,000 secondary school students, University of Auckland researchers last year found that only 0.8% of 14 and 15-year-olds, who had never smoked, were regular vapers. Researchers subsequently confirmed there was no youth vaping epidemic in New Zealand,” she says.
Given that vaping over the past decade has been key to reducing New Zealand’s overall smoking rate to a record low, AVCA was disappointed the Government’s recent Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan discussion document largely overlooked vaping as a key component to achieving smokefree.
“Vaping has saved thousands of ex-smoking Kiwis’ lives. It’s time for greater perspective. It’s also time for the Government to fully roll out its agreed Vape to QuitStrong campaign and perhaps a specialised, balanced education programme for schools – both would help dispel the lies some continue to espouse.
“The Government also needs to get really tough at point of sale. If any retailer breaks the law and sells vaping products to minors under 18, the book must be seriously thrown at them,” says Nancy Loucas.
AVCA says balanced stories about vaping would see the media approach the likes of ASH, Hapai te Hauora, and the NZ College of Physicians on their experiences and views on vaping’s critical role in achieving smokefree.
“It’s easy to get emotional, but let’s stay focused on the evidence,” she says.
For example, Public Health England, in its 2018 independent evidence review, concluded that ‘e-cigarettes are around 95% safer than combustible cigarettes.’
“New Zealand’s 200,000 vapers just want a fair go. All that alarmist media stories do is ostracise the many ex-smokers who’ve successful quit cigarettes via vaping,” says Nancy Loucas.