Open letter to Dr Ayesha Verrall
Open letter to Dr Ayesha Verrall calling for urgent action on youth vaping in Aotearoa
cc Chief Children’s Commissioner, Judge Frances Eivers
Hon Dr Ayesha Verrall
Private Bag 18 888
Dear Dr Verrall,
We are writing to you on behalf of Vape-Free Kids NZ (VFK NZ), a grassroots group calling for urgent action to prevent harm to rangatahi from vaping. As Minister of Health, we ask you to take immediate steps to reduce the visibility and accessibility of vapes in our communities.
The legislative changes you announced on 6 June 2023 are inadequate. They stipulate that no new specialist vape retailers (SVRs) will be permitted to open within 300m of schools or marae, but they do not address the density and proximity of existing SVRs to these places. Also, the delay in the proposed legislation has allowed for many new SVRs to open. The number of SVRs has more than doubled in the past 12 months with 650 registered in July 2022, to 1320 in July 2023.
In addition, whilst we agree with your assertion that the vape industry uses marketing tactics to target our children, we do not agree that simply changing the names of vape flavours will be effective in reversing the dependencies already created in our children.
Under your new legislation, a vape flavour could not be named: "cotton candy", but could be named: "berry", and the same child-friendly actual flavours will remain. Colourful packaging, often featuring cartoon characters, will also be unchanged.
In an interview with TVNZ’s Sunday on 11 June 2023, you made the following statements:
- “I am not at all saying vaping is safe, we think it’s harmful”
- “I acknowledge there is uncertainty about vaping”
- [you were not surprised that there were] “10 times as many vape stores in our poorer communities as in our well-off” and “we see the same patterns with tobacco and alcohol”
We find it hard to believe that having acknowledged the above, as our Minister for Health you are not taking more robust steps to address the access and marketing of vapes in NZ so they do not appeal to our children, and find their way into our children’s hands with ease.
We do not approve of, or consent to, the children of Aotearoa being used as test cases to determine the extent of long-term health implications of regular vaping use. We believe the Government has become so laser-focused on the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan that this goal must be reached at any cost - even if that cost is the health of our tamariki and rangatahi.
On top of the issues of marketing and access, there has been no investment or effort by the Government to implement nationwide youth vaping cessation support. Parents across the motu are struggling with the health and behavioural problems their kids have developed due to vaping, and there is very little help available. We maintain as Minister of Health it is your responsibility to help and protect those who are sadly now addicted to vaping.
You have a ministerial obligation as a representative of the NZ government, to uphold the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC). To deny the children of Aotearoa adequate protection from nicotine dependency by allowing the vape industry to remain so poorly regulated contravenes Article 24, Clause 1 of UNCROC which states:
- Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.
We call on you to immediately act in the best interests of Aotearoa's children by introducing robust legislation to regulate the sale and distribution of vaping products and to prioritise the establishment of nationwide vaping cessation and addiction programs for our tamariki and rangatahi.
Vape-Free Kids NZ is actively campaigning for change. At the time of writing, our Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/vapefreekidsnz has more than 1,500 members and we have change.org and parliamentary petitions with 6,902 and 3,411 signatures respectively:
We will be contacting all your ministerial colleagues as well as opposition MPs who might form any new incoming Government come October 14. This is very much an election issue for thousands of New Zealanders who will be collectively communicating to their elected officials and candidates in the run-up to the General Election.
We welcome any dialogue and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vape-Free Kids NZ