A Sunday investigation has found that almost 10 times as many e-cigarette outlets are present in the lowest income communities as compared to the wealthiest ones in the country. The University of Otago’s deprivation index, which measures an area’s socio-economic status on a scale of 1 to 10, shows that in the areas with the highest deprivation level, there are 202 vape stores, indicating the alarming pattern that “business is booming for vape retailers” in the poorest areas of the country. The vaping industry justifies the presence of vape stores in these areas by citing the need to be available where smokers are, but researchers are questioning if the industry is genuinely concerned about vulnerable populations or is merely targeting them.
Lucy Hardie, a health researcher, revealed that this pattern is common as tobacco and alcohol outlets are also targeted in high deprivation areas. The data shows that the country’s poorest communities have the most vape stores, which further confirms the concerns of health researchers studying the marketing strategies of the vaping industry.
Jonathan Devery, the chair of the Vaping Industry Association of New Zealand, argues that vaping products are meant for adults to quit smoking. Hence, these stores reflect the location of smokers, and accessibility to such products is particularly crucial for communities where the health and financial burden from tobacco is higher.
As revealed by new figures released by Sunday, e-cigarettes are increasingly becoming a problem in primary and intermediate schools as well, with 1928 cases of a student being stood down for smoking or vaping in 2022, 417 more incidents than there were at high schools. The Health Minister, Ayesha Verrall, has announced a package of changes that includes the phasing out of disposable vapes as part of a larger effort to stop youth vaping. She also mentions that new law changes will prevent new vape stores from opening within 300 meters of a school or marae.
Furthermore, existing stores near schools will be significantly restricted in what they can sell, particularly disposable vapes and packaging intended to appeal to children. Verrall asserts that selling vapes to under-18s has been illegal for a couple of years, and the Ministry of Health is enforcing that with raids on shops. She concludes by emphasizing the importance of setting clear expectations for young people about not tolerating vaping and how the community needs to support that effort.
This alarming pattern of a greater concentration of vape stores in low-income communities is cause for concern. It points to the larger problem of targeting vulnerable populations and highlights the need for stricter regulations and greater awareness campaigns to drive home the dangers of vaping while also making smoking cessation products more accessible to all.