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Still time to follow the evidence on vape flavours – petitioner

Dr Ayesha Verrall,, Associate Health Minister

Nearly a year since a Parliamentary petition on vaping flavours closed, and exactly six months since the Government’s vaping legislation was passed, the petition organiser has submitted a supporting supplementary submission at the Health Select Committee’s request.

Despite the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Act 2020 now in play, the Government could still opt to follow the evidence, not the emotion, when it comes to final decisions around the availability of vape flavours, says Nancy Loucas, co-director of Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy (AVCA).

AVCA’s petition to Parliament requested: ‘That the House of Representatives debate the Government’s proposal to limit flavoured nicotine e-liquids to mint, menthol and tobacco.’ Over 17,000 people signed the petition before it closed on 31 March last year.

Disappointingly the petition was not formally accepted by Parliament until 10 August last year – five days after the vaping legislation had been passed.

The leading vaping advocate says all is not lost because now the Ministry of Health has now opened submissions on its draft vaping regulations. Limiting vape flavours to just three for general retailers, such as service stations, has still to be confirmed ahead of the proposed 11 August 2021 implementation timeframe.

“We believe the proposal to limit flavours is counter to the views of experts – the Ministry of Health and Hapai Te Hauora – and will not help achieve Smokefree 2025… We know vapers quit smoking with fruit and dessert flavours, not tobacco, menthol, or mint flavours, as they are not looking for a cigarette taste but to move away from cigarettes,” Ms Loucas wrote in her supplementary submission to the select committee.

She referred to ASH’s ‘Surge Strategy for Smokefree Aotearoa 2025: The role and regulation of vaping and other low-risk smokefree nicotine products’.

“The authors reiterated that ‘examples of plausible unintended consequences of excessive control include banning all or most flavours in vapes, (which is) likely to cause a relapse to cigarette smoking for those unable to use a preferred flavour, and could encourage a black market,’” noting that similar bans overseas have also seen a rise in smoking rates.

AVCA logoMs Loucas completely dismisses any suggestion of a youth vaping epidemic as media sensationalism, with a comprehensive study of young New Zealand secondary school students last year well and truly putting that myth to bed.

Throughout the supplementary submission, she pointed to considerable evidence saying experts have concluded that flavours are integral to the appeal of smokefree alternatives and an essential part of the proposition to smokers to try switching and remain smokefree.

To limit any attraction to non-smoking youth, she reminded the select committee that experts believe the Government should instead focus primarily on responsible marketing – not on modifying or limiting the appeal of the product itself to adults.

From 2016 to 2018 AVCA ran its own Vape It Forward (VIF) holistic mentoring programme with adults who had tried to stop smoking using conventional methods, she wrote.

VIF proved very successful, including for the many Maori participants, with data collected confirming that the majority of the new vapers had found success using fruit and dessert flavours. They did not want tobacco flavours, and very few wanted mint or menthol.

“Having only tobacco, mint and menthol available in rural localities with no access to bricks and mortar specialist vape shops will limit the success of those smokers, and current vapers, to become and stay smokefree.

“The very people with the highest smoking rates, who suffer the most harm from smoking, are wildly disadvantaged by the restrictions put forth, to combat a ‘youth epidemic’ that does not exist in Aotearoa New Zealand,” she wrote.

AVCA’s supplementary submission noted that former Associate Health Minster Jenny Salesa promised to implement ‘risk proportionate regulations’ in early 2019, saying then that New Zealand did not have a youth vaping epidemic. However, within months, after unrelated incidents involving unregulated products in the US, Ms Salesa u-turned insisting she would limit flavours to supposedly protect young Kiwis from taking up vaping.

“New Associate Health Minister, Dr Ayesha Verrall (pictured above), is now working on a draft smokefree action plan and understands Tobacco Harm Reduction. We have a new Health Select Committee, a new Vaping Regulatory Authority, and the opportunity to now have our say on the Ministry’s draft vaping regulations.

“I am hoping my petition signed by 17,357 Kiwis is finally taken seriously. We don’t have to make vaping a lot less attractive to adult smokers on 11 August. If we are to ever achieve a smokefree country – where only 5% or less of the population smoke – we need to support smokers to quit, not take the best tools away,” says Nancy Loucas.

To make a submission on the draft vaping regulations, before 15 March, visit  https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/smokefree-environments-and-regulated-products-act-1990-proposals-regulations

 

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