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Response to Dairy Owners' Opinion piece

Vape-Free Kids NZ (VFK NZ), a grassroots group of parents, whānau and community members calling for urgent action to prevent harm to youth from vaping, strongly condemn the Dairy and Business Owners’ Group’s efforts to minimise the harm posed by vapes.

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation’s 2021 survey of over 19,000 Year 9 to 13 students in New Zealand found that of those who vaped, dairies were the most common source of vape purchases (50.4 percent).

Stores which undergo an enforcement check receive a prior visit from an enforcement officer to remind them of their obligation under the law to ask for and accept valid IDs to ensure all vape product sales are to customers over 18. Even so, retailers have continued to fail these checks.

Minimising the harms of nicotine by comparing it to caffeine, cherry picking one article from 2015 and taking it out of context, is completely negligent. A substantial body of scientific data states that nicotine is highly addictive, and can result in negative health effects. Nicotine exposure alone can adversely affect the nervous, respiratory, immune, and cardiovascular systems, particularly when exposure occurs during critical developmental periods.

The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne states:

‘Nicotine exposure during the teenage years can harm brain development, which continues until about age 25. It can impact learning, memory and attention, and increase risk for future addiction to other drugs. Young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to go on to use regular cigarettes.’

‘While scientists are still learning about the short and long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes, a recent outbreak of lung disease and deaths related to e-cigarette use in the United States demonstrates that e-cigarette aerosol can be harmful to the lungs. In the short term, using e-cigarettes may cause breathing difficulties and coughing. Many e-cigarettes contain known-carcinogens and inhaling cancer causing chemicals increases the risk of cancers. In the longer term, e-cigarette use also increases the risk of heart disease.’

2020 survey of Canadian paediatricians also summarised a range of vaping related injuries and illnesses among under 18s, including acute respiratory symptoms and nicotine toxicity, with 15% of injuries requiring intensive care unit admission. The low rate of NZ hospitals using a newly introduced code to classify admissions as vaping related does not constitute proof that vaping is harmless.

Mr Kaushal also questioned whether nicotine was more harmful than cannabis or alcohol, which does not stack up as an argument for retaining the sale of nicotine products in dairies. Medicinal cannabis products are available by prescription only, while alcohol has far more robust legislation regulating its sale, with proper penalties that are enforced appropriately, and enough inspectors to deter improper sale to minors.

In short, there is ample evidence to conclude that vaping and nicotine have many risks, both known and unknown, particularly to children. Nicotine is certainly not as innocuous as a cup of coffee, and to suggest otherwise is absurd.

Comparing the cost of ACC claims from vaping to cycling and e-scooter injuries is also a complete fallacy, as if accidental injury from using a mode of transport is at all equivalent to purposefully inhaling the e-liquids from vapes. The suggestion that cycling or the use of e-scooters is more risky than vaping due to the cost to the health system is laughable.

The piece also completely missed the mark on the key messages from Patrick Gower’s enlightening documentary about vaping. The article linked directly quotes Gower as saying this about vaping: “We don’t know what’s going to happen in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time. It’s an experiment and it’s an experiment where our young people are our guinea pigs.”

The program also explored the unknown health risks of e-liquids in detail, with evidence from ESR that some e-liquids contained either double the quantity of nicotine labelled, or nicotine in supposedly nicotine-free products, along with many other questionable substances such as microbes from saliva. The University of Auckland also found heavy metals in vape juice, including manganese, copper and chromium, some at 100 times more than the limit allowed in drinking water.

Gower also spoke to a woman whose mother died from vaping-associated pulmonary injury, which was later linked to Vitamin E Acetate in vape juice she consumed.

Accusing those pushing back against vape products being widely accessible in dairies of racism is also disingenuous, when the racial background of individual retailers has never been raised as part of the issue. Racial background is a valid consideration however when we consider those affected by the harms of vape products, such as those sold in dairies. Maori and Pacific youth, particularly Maori girls, are much more likely to vape, and they are also disproportionately affected by the negative impacts of vaping. Tobacco companies have a clear track record of targeting Maori, with a vape manufacturer even running a Matariki promotion. There is also evidence that vape retailers target lower income communities, who already suffer from poorer health outcomes relative to the general population.

When Australia made nicotine-containing vapes prescription only in 2021, it simply resulted in vape products being sold with no nicotine labelling at all. Vapes remained as widely available as before, including nicotine-containing ones, which explains the continued rise of youth vaping rates in the country. Australia’s Federal Health Minister said, “Vaping has now become the number one behavioural issue in high schools and it is becoming widespread in primary schools as well.” This has led to a new proposal banning all recreational vaping, which has yet to come into effect.

There is growing evidence that vaping is just as likely to lead to users taking up smoking as it is to quitting cigarettes. A University of Otago study found that those who vape were “just as likely to transition to smoking as smokers were to transition to vaping”.

If vaping is to be used purely as a smoking cessation tool to help Aoteroa reach its Smokefree 2025 target, it is entirely appropriate for it be sold only by trained health professionals such as pharmacists.

Dairy owners must acknowledge that all nicotine containing products, whether they are cigarettes or vapes, have no place in their stores. It is morally reprehensible to sacrifice a whole new generation to nicotine addiction, purely for profit reasons. Evidence that some dairies are exploiting legal loopholes to set up mini specialist vape retailers, which can offer a wider range of vape flavours than those allowed in a general retailer, is also cynical.

When vapes are as ubiquitous as lollies in every corner dairy, it only serves to normalise and make these products more accessible to children. Vape manufacturers and retailers are the ones who reap the rewards, while our youth pay the price.

VFK NZ is calling for more meaningful action to curb the growing issue of youth vaping in New Zealand, including but not limited to:

  • Implementing plain (black and white) packaging with warnings on all vape products.
  • Restricting flavour varieties as well as flavour names.
  • A complete ban on cheap non-refillable/disposable vapes, including those with removable batteries.
  • Lowering nicotine levels in vapes from 50mg to 20mg, in line with other countries
  • Make vapes pharmacy only.
  • Implement a sinking lid on all current specialist vape retailers (SVRs) located within 1-2km proximity of schools, marae, significant landmarks, playgrounds, and sports fields.
  • Implement a sinking lid on all current “store within a store” models that expose young people to vapes, and make all current “store within a store” models into R18 stores with completely different businesses, staff and entrances.
  • Stronger penalties that include losing a licence on breach of compliance, such as selling to minors, and more resources invested into enforcement officers.
  • More investment into supporting schools, communities, parents, and rangatahi for education and vaping cessation.

On Wednesday 16 August, VFK NZ will be presenting over 12,000 petition signatures to parliament to call for regulatory changes to protect tamariki from the harm of nicotine addiction. The event will commence on the front lawn at 1pm and Dr Tracey McLellan, Chair of the Health Select Committee, will receive the petition.