A message of hope for smokers

Insights Newsletter
18 May, 2018

A few weeks ago, I wrote in Insights that public health policy works in mysterious ways.

I stand by that statement.

As a teaser for The New Zealand Initiative’s latest report Smoke and Vapour: the changing world of tobacco harm reduction, I wrote that there was some frustration that the Labour-led government had not yet expressed a position on e-cigarettes.

I also noted that there are a range of other nicotine delivery products available overseas (snus and heat-not-burn) that should be made available in New Zealand to help people cut down or quit smoking.

Just days before the launch of Smoke and Vapour, something exciting happened.

The Ministry of Health announced that all tobacco products (except for tobacco that is chewed or dissolved in the mouth) can be lawfully imported, sold and distributed in New Zealand. This includes vaping products, heat-not-burn products and possibly snus.

This is an excellent step for the country, and for the future of smokers wanting to quit.

But there is still work to be done.

The Ministry will be considering how best to apply risk-proportionate regulations across these products. In the meantime, retailers are encouraged to continue trading responsibly.

Smoke and Vapour makes some recommendations on how these products should be regulated. Though legalisation is an important first step, our report argues that regulations should not inhibit smokers’ access to these products.

Applying tobacco-style regulations (advertising restrictions, standardised packaging, excise) to products that are less harmful than cigarettes would be counterproductive to New Zealand’s wider smoke-free policies and aspirations. It also sends the misleading and damaging message that these products are as risky as smoking, so people might as well smoke.

Risk-proportionate regulations should not automatically mean risk averse. The potential benefits of these products need to be considered alongside the potential risks.

This interregnum will be an important time for retailers to demonstrate that regulations can and should be light-touch. Monitoring the uptake of these products should also inform whether potential risks (like significant uptake of these products by minors) are realised or remain hypothetical.

For smokers who have struggled to quit, or who want to reduce the harms of smoking but do not want to give up nicotine, the future is looking optimistic.

Scientific understanding has developed to point the finger at the real culprit of smoking-related harm: combustion. Technology has developed to produce a range of nicotine delivery products that can compete on price, effectiveness, and consumer acceptability.

And now, it seems New Zealand public health policy is catching up too.

You can download the report and a two-page summary on our website. The Ministry of Health’s announcement can be found here.

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