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Oz exposes NZ’s vapid vaping policies

Australia’s measures to ban recreational vaping by making e-cigarettes pharmacy-only products have exposed the lack of thought locally about this increasingly common habit.

It’s also another example of how having an audacious, singular policy goal – in this case, Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 – can blind politicians and bureaucrats to potential downsides in their myopic drive to achieve it.

This official oversight should be cause for amazement, given vaping was always an obvious Trojan horse for the tobacco industry – although that’s long been a misnomer for companies better described as being in the business of delivering nicotine, a substance at least as addictive as cocaine and heroin.

Tobacco products have the conspicuous disadvantage of being strongly linked to various illnesses that can adversely affect users’ quality of life – up to and including ending it altogether – which is admittedly not a great sales pitch.

To forestall that particular marketing problem, Big Nicotine did engage in decades of deception by suppressing research revealing the inherent dangers of inhaling the toxins produced by burning tobacco.

But once the whistle was blown, a new business model was clearly called for.

Hence the advent of vaping, cunningly positioned as providing all the ‘benefits’ of nicotine addiction without the drawbacks of drawing in smoke, thanks to an electronic device transforming nicotine-laced liquid into an inhalable aerosol instead.

What could possibly go wrong?

Our Health Ministry apparently couldn’t think of anything, so vaping was adopted with alacrity as a “smoking cessation tool” to aid in reaching our smoke-free aims.

Never mind there were no long-term studies into the effects of vaping,

And never mind the 2016 warning from the United States’ Surgeon-General about the dangers of nicotine use by kids and young adults [including priming for use of other addictive substances, reduced impulse control, deficits in attention and cognition, and mood disorders].

To be fair, this presumably wasn’t considered an issue because vaping wasn’t intended for non-smoking young people [and, as we know, intent always perfectly aligns with outcome, eh].

It certainly didn’t appear to occur to anyone that vaping would be sold to ‘the youth’ as something cool, just as kids were surreptitiously targeted with cigarette marketing [a particularly invidious example being comic book adverts admonishing young readers not to smoke because it was an adult activity].

And so it came to predictably pass that a strand of vape marketing aggressively sought to associate the habit with hip youth culture – an enormously successful strategy that’s seen the number of young people addicted to nicotine via vaping exploding over the past few years [a 2021 survey, for example, showed almost 20 per cent of secondary students were doing it daily, despite the majority of them never having smoked cigarettes, and it’s since grown worse].

Yet our government still doesn’t seem to see sufficient cause for alarm to follow Australia’s lead, with Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall admitting there are currently no plans for similar legislation here while stressing vaping is an essential aspect of our smoke-free aims.

It’s quite the trick to blow smoke about an issue while also being asleep at the switch.

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