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Vape constraints too little, too late

In response to what’s being described as a “vaping epidemic” among students as young as primary school level, the government has announced a tightening of New Zealand’s vaping regulations.

The announcement has received mixed reactions, but is welcome news to at least one Wairarapa school principal who claims vaping is “rife” among his students.

From August this year, new retailers will not be able to open a business within 300 metres of a school or marae.

In addition, all vaping devices will need to have removable batteries, to limit the sale of the cheap, disposable vapes commonly found in the hands of school students.

Creative liberties in describing vape flavours like “cotton candy” and “strawberry jelly doughnut” will also be prohibited, in favour of more mundane descriptors like “berry”.

Public Health Communication Centre spokesperson Professor Janet Hoek said the proposed measures outline some important preliminary steps but need to go further.

“The announcement noted that 56,000 people stopped smoking in the past year,” Hoek said.

“However, during the same period, the NZ Health Survey reported that 119,000 young people aged 15 to 24 vaped daily.”

The Times-Age recently reported on the vape cloud hanging over local schools, with Masterton Intermediate principal Russell Thompson saying the habit is “rife” among students.

Thompson said he thinks the proposed new regulations are a good start.

“It’s a continuous battle. We’re just trying to put the line in the sand,” he said.

“The sooner they can get rid of it completely, the better.

“I just feel for the kids – you shouldn’t be addicted to a bloody vape.”

Thompson believes the measures to tackle the accessibility of cheap, disposable vapes are especially important, although he’s not sure the suite of regulations goes far enough in addressing the issue.

Westend Superstore and vape dispensary is on the same street as Wairarapa College, but owner Raj Patel said he doesn’t see many young students trying to buy vapes – and that’s the way he likes it.

“The younger generation, why do they feel the need to vape?” asked Patel.

“We don’t get any kids in here trying to buy them – they know I won’t sell to them.”

Patel believes the majority of vaping students are getting hold of vapes through online retailers, and family and friends.

“It’s easy for kids to get them online. You just tick all the boxes: ‘Yes, I’m over 18’,” Patel said.

“We always ask for ID here, it’s the same with any smoking products.”

Catherine Manning, spokesperson of anti-tobacco group Te Rōpū Tupeka Kore, said her organisation is disappointed the new measures don’t go far enough.

“Protecting the availability of these products seems to be more important than protecting the impacts on Māori and, in particular, our rangatahi [young people],” she said.

For her part, Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall has said that, although vaping has played an important role in reducing smokers, the government acknowledges the need to reduce the number of young people vaping.

“We recognise we need to strike a balance between preventing young people from starting to vape,” she said, “at the same time as having vapes available as a cessation tool for those who genuinely want to give up smoking,”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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