Wellington, July 5,2023
Vaping, hailed as a means of helping people to quit smoking, could be having the opposite effect instead.
Research by the University of Otago found no evidence of vapes “helping smokers quit the habit. Instead, it found frequent transitions between smoking to vaping and vice versa.”
The research findings were published in the Drug and Alcohol Review last month.
Otago postgraduate student Andre Mason, one of those who led the research, said vaping was once “hailed [as] a new tool to help people quit smoking, but to date that evidence has been inconsistent.”
“Contrary to the desired hope, vaping appears to have emerged as just another smoking-related behaviour rather than a substitute for smoking that primarily helps people quit,” Mason noted.
Though the three-year study found the number of smokers dipped over time, there was no evidence to show that vaping played a role in that outcome. The decrease in the number of smokers could be the result of marketing campaigns pointing out the health risks involved in smoking coupled with cigarette costs going up, the study noted.
“Furthermore, and perhaps more concerningly, vaping appeared to be equally as likely to increase the uptake of cigarette smoking as it was to have a cessation effect,” Mason said.
The findings raised policy dilemmas for health authorities.
“This supports the arguments that policy discussions cannot simply focus on a one-directional consideration of harm reduction, in this case that, if vaping is less harmful than cigarettes, then vaping can be less regulated to enable smokers to switch to healthier behaviour,” Mason observed.
The study comes in the wake of Ministry of Health statistics showing the number of 15 to 17-year-olds who vaped daily had quadrupled in three years, from 2% in 2018-19 to 8% in 2021-22.
Te Whatu Ora Health NZ noted the number of people who had never smoked cigarettes but were addicted to vaping was on the rise. These people were being directed to stop-smoking programmes such as Ready Steady Quit and Quitline. General practitioners (GPs) have been briefed to advise “those wanting to reduce their nicotine consumption.”
The government has banned disposable vape devices and stopped new vape shops from opening near schools and marae. From August, all vaping devices sold in New Zealand will need to have removable or replaceable batteries.
Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall has announced a slew of measures to curb youth vaping.
“From August, vapes will need child safety mechanisms, and potentially enticing names like ‘cotton candy’ and ‘strawberry jelly donut,’ which accompany far too many products, will be prohibited.
“Only generic names which accurately describe the flavours can be used, such as ‘berry’,” Verrall said.
She said the government understood “the balance needed between preventing young people from vaping while at the same time having vapes available as a quit-smoking method.”
The government’s anti-vaping measures include a three-month lead-in time for disposable vapes and a six-month lead-in time for reusable vapes for product compliance.
Single-use (disposable vape products) that fail to meet the new requirements (including child safety mechanisms, removable batteries and reduced nicotine salt levels) will not be able to be sold three months after the regulations come into force.
This timeframe recognises that “disposable products have a faster turnaround than reusable products and the increasing use of these products by young people, the subsequent safety risk posed by not having child safety mechanisms or removable batteries, and their addictiveness.”
Reusable vape products that failed to meet the new requirements would not be able to be sold six months after the regulations came into force.
This timeframe acknowledged that “reusable products have a slower turnaround than disposable products, so manufacturers and importers have more time to update their products, and retailers have more time to sell through existing stock that does not meet requirements.”
The government said it was committed to encouraging young people to “live vape-free lives.”
But some said the government’s crackdown on vaping did not go far enough.
“There’s probably more that they can do…….[taking] away some of those alluring titles will be beneficial,” said Newlands Intermediate School principal Angela Lowe, who also heads the Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools. “It’s enticing. I think if we can get rid of some of those things that encourage the kids or make them feel that it’s a hip, cool thing, the better.”
She said there was still a risk that older children could help enable access to reusable vapes.
But the government was optimistic on the role played by vaping in bringing down nicotine consumption levels.
“Vaping has played an important role in the record reduction of New Zealanders smoking over the last few years,” Minister Verrall observed. “New Zealand’s smoking rate is half the rate of what it was 10 years ago, with the number of people smoking falling by 56,000 in the past year.”
“We’re creating a future where tobacco products are no longer addictive, appealing or as readily available, and the same needs to apply to vaping,” the minister noted.
But the most recent New Zealand Health Survey showed that 23% of 18 to 23-year-olds vaped each day, with many young people finding it hard to quit vaping.
Victoria University student Izzy Stewart, 19, picked up the habit in high school. She now vaped about 50 times a day. “I don’t think I’ll be able to quit. It is an addiction……you don’t realise it until it’s too late.”
Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington