Youth vaping targeted by new rules – Expert Reaction

Disposable vapes will be banned from August as the government announces new rules aimed at stemming the number of young non-smokers taking up vaping.

The changes will also prevent new vape retailers being established within 300 metres of schools and marae, restrict flavour names to generic descriptions like “berry”, and require vapes to have “child-safety mechanisms” such as buttons to make them harder to operate.

The SMC asked experts to comment. 

Associate Professor Anaru Waa, Senior Lecturer/Researcher, Eru Pomare Māori Health Research Centre, University of Otago, and co-director of ASPIRE2025, comments:

“It’s great the Government recognises there is a problem and needs to tackle things like disposables and the mind boggling range of flavours that are available.

“However, only requiring that vapes have removable batteries does not mean they are banned and it’s quite possible this could make them even cheaper to purchase.

“Getting rid of the names that are obviously targeted to young people is only part of the problem – the wide array of flavours needs to be reduced as well.

“While stopping new vape shops opening near schools and marae is a step in the right direction this does not address those that are already in these locations and arguably the ‘vape market’ is quite flooded already so may only have a minor impact on vaping rates among young people.”

Conflict of interest statement: “I receive (or have received) funding from the Health Research Council”

Professor Janet Hoek, University of Otago, Wellington, and co-Director of ASPIRE2025, comments:

Note: This comment is an excerpt from a briefing by the Public Health Communication Centre.

Vaping device measures

“The new regulations will require all vaping products to have removable or replaceable batteries, a measure that should limit sales of cheap disposable vapes favoured by children. However, disposable vapes with removable batteries will soon be available in Aotearoa, suggesting this measure will be easily circumvented. An outright ban on non-refillable vapes would ensure that cheap, disposable vapes could not be sold to young people and recognise their right to protection from targeted marketing that encourages uptake of a highly addictive product.

“A Ministry of Health statement noted that Cabinet had approved measures to limit the maximum nicotine strength allowed in single-use (disposable) vapes, though did not outline the new limits, which are currently set at 50mg/ml, more than twice the concentration permitted in the EU. Reducing the nicotine concentration permitted could reduce the addictiveness of devices young people prefer. A survey undertaken by the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation and Secondary School Principals found 80% of secondary students who reported vaping at least once a week used high strength vapes (i.e., products containing 24mg/ml to 50mg/ml of nicotine).”

Retail outlet measures

“The new regulations will not allow new specialist vape retailers (SVRs) to operate within 300m of schools or marae. However, this measure does not apply to generic retailers, such as dairies, many of which already fall within this perimeter; nor does it apply to existing SVRs (of which there are now more than 1200). Given applications to operate as an SVR have slowed (the HARP website shows that, as of 07 June, fewer than 100 SVRs have been approved in 2023). Declining application numbers and the omission of existing outlets mean this measure is unlikely to reduce young people’s access or exposure to vaping products.

“Further, the SVR measure does not address the growing problem of outlet density that has caused concern among many communities and led Local Government New Zealand to pass a remit calling on the Government to limit vaping product sales to specialist stores. The “store-within-a-store” practice, where dairies create a specialist store within their footprint, appears able to continue, despite concerns that children entering the dairy are often exposed to attractively packaged vaping products, visible from outside the specialist store area.

“Although the measures aim to place “vapes as far from the minds and reach of children and young people as possible”; the measures outlined do not stop dairies from selling vaping products, do nothing to end window displays and point-of-sale promotions, and make no mention of ending online promotions. As we have previously argued, limiting sales of vaping products to SVRs that specialise in these devices would more effectively reduce young people’s access and exposure to vaping products, particularly if enforcement was intensified.”

Flavour names

“The regulations will disallow “potentially enticing [flavour] names” and manufacturers will now need to use generic descriptors to indicate e-liquid flavours. While a helpful step in reducing some of the most egregious marketing directed at young people, the new measures do not appear to address the brightly coloured packaging, which has featured cartoon characters to attract children’s attention and interest. Requiring plain black and white packaging would have removed marketers’ use of alluring imagery and reframed vaping products as tools that support switching among people who have not been able to quit smoking using other approaches.

“Perhaps most importantly, the new measures focus on flavour names, not the flavours themselves. Given many young people and non-smokers report vaping because of the flavours, limiting flavour names is only one step in addressing a much larger problem. Reducing flavour variety would likely reduce vaping’s appeal to young people more effectively than merely limiting permissible flavour names.”

Striking a balance

“The new measures attempt to balance use of vaping products by people who smoke as they either try to quit using nicotine altogether or move to a less harmful alternative, while protecting young people. The announcement noted that 56,000 people stopped smoking in the last year. However, during the same period, the NZ Health Survey reported that 119,000 young people aged 15 to 24 vaped daily.

“Alongside more comprehensive measures, we hope to see greater enforcement to minimise sales to people aged under 18, and stronger monitoring of vaping trends among young people, to inform effective policy. We also need measures that will assist the many young people who have become addicted to nicotine through vaping so they can become vape-free.

“We welcome steps to protect rangatahi; the proposed measures outline some important preliminary steps but do not go far enough because vaping products will remain easily accessible, highly visible and attractively packaged. More comprehensive measures, such as those we have outlined above, are needed to recognise young people’s right to protection from products that will bring them no benefits.”

Conflict of interest statement: “I receive (or have received) funding from the Health Research Council, Cancer Society, and Royal Society Marsden Fund.”