Editorial: The Government is right to proceed cautiously on vaping

Vaping is thought to be about 95 per cent less harmful than ordinary cigarettes.
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Vaping is thought to be about 95 per cent less harmful than ordinary cigarettes.

OPINION: The Government has bowed to the inevitable and decided to legalise vaping.

The important point is that vaping or e-cigarettes are about 95 per cent less harmful than ordinary cigarettes, although there is some doubt about the long-term effects. So the Government is right to proceed slowly and with caution.

E-cigarettes will be cheaper than those sold by Big Tobacco and are therefore arguably a safe way for smokers to try to quit. They are now extensively used overseas and are said to be the main quitters' device in Britain. New Zealand could hardly avoid allowing them to be used here.

Smoking expert Tony Blakely says that e-cigarettes probably increase the chance of someone quitting tobacco altogether, but the exact benefit is unclear. Someone who uses both e-cigarettes and tobacco will probably suffer less harm than if they stick to tobacco only, he says.

Some of the noisier libertarians say that vaping is a great boon because it offers a safer and cheaper quit mechanism for the poor but severely addicted smoker. These people are caught by rising tobacco taxes, which clearly punish the poor more than the rich.

Unfortunately there are other risks and uncertainties with e-cigarettes, as Blakely points out. Their widespread use might help re-normalise smoking, at a time when more and more of the population sees smoking for the squalid, sad and lethal addiction that it really is. How many silly young people will look at the pictures of Leonardo diCaprio vaping and decide (wrongly) that smoking is cool again?

For this reasons tobacco expert Janet Hoek says e-cigarettes should not be sold wherever tobacco is sold. It should be restricted to specialist vape stores or pharmacies where smokers can get expert advice that will help to quit. But the Government hasn't taken up this advice.

Since the legislation won't take effect till late next year there is still time for the Government to change its mind about this. Experts will have to decide whether a restricted supply is necessary or indeed whether the advice of say pharmacists will make a material difference to the habit of smokers and vapers.

Moreover, Associate Health Minister Nicky Wagner is wrong to dismiss the fact that big tobacco companies have spoken in favour of vaping. Big Tobacco has for decades tried to escape the tightening vice of health regulators and will always try to subvert the anti-smoking message which now threatens to kill it and its lethal products and blood-stained profits.

Presumably the companies calculate that vaping and smoking will become confused by many and that this will help the reverse the fall in tobacco consumption. For that reason there must be some doubt about whether vaping should be banned in all the public places where tobacco is now rightly banned. If vaping is allowed in these places, will it help to normalise killer cigarettes again?

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This matters, because despite decades of public health legislation and a rising public revulsion at the smoking industry, some 4000-odd New Zealanders die prematurely every year through smoking. The war against smoking is a war to the death.

 - The Dominion Post

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