New Zealand smoking ban made viable by…


World-first smoking ban only possible because New Zealand legalised safer alternatives, harm reduction advocates have argued.

New Zealand’s new tobacco restrictions, passed on Tuesday, include an age-based ban that makes it illegal for anyone born after 1 January 2009 to buy cigarettes – even after they turn 18. People born before 2009 will be unaffected by the ban.

The laws have been celebrated by anti-smoking advocates, with the Australian National University’s Dr Raglan Maddox telling Sky News Australia the laws are “incredibly exciting.”

“I know a lot of people, including in Australia, will be watching on eagerly to see how these reforms and this major change supports people to improve health and wellbeing,” the health researcher said.

But according to Dr Colin Mendelsohn, a smoking cessation specialist and the founding Chairman of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association, New Zealand’s approach is only viable because they have legalised safer alternatives like vaping.

“When you have a prohibitive or restrictive policy people find work arounds. So you will get a black market,” Dr Mendelsohn said.  

“You have to have an alternative. You have to have a freely available vaping market which people can switch to.”

Dr Mendelsohn explained that New Zealand has a whole package of strategies to reduce smoking, with vaping being by far the most successful.

“Since vaping was legalised in august 2020 adult smoking rates have fallen by 33 per cent. That’s extraordinary and unprecedented.”

“Whereas in Australia our smoking rate falls by 2-3 per cent per year.”

This view was not shared by Dr Maddox, who said the increase in vaping was “absolutely a concern” because “e-cigarette use tends to lead on to tobacco use.”

“We know that ppl who use e-cigs are three times more likely to go on to smoke, which is particularly concerning when we think about our youth and young people,” he said.  

However Dr Mendelsohn said this was not accurate.

“That has been debunked. The anti-vaping people keep bringing that up, the science doesn’t support it.”

“In fact what’s happening now in most countries now where vaping is available is that in young people the smoking rates are falling faster than ever since vaping rates increased.”

Unlike our trans-Tasman neighbour, Australia has taken a much stricter approach to vaping. Nicotine-based e-cigarettes can only be legally purchased with a doctors prescription, and even with a prescription access is difficult.

A key principle behind these laws was protecting the health of children and young people. Yet there has been a massive increase in teen vaping, with the 2021 University of Sydney survey finding 32 per cent of 14-17 year olds had tried vaping.

The survey also found that 80 per cent of kids who had vaped found it very easy, easy, or quite easy to access vapes.

As Dr Mendelsohn put it, “The current model we have got has been a total failure.”

“A huge, thriving black market has sprung up which is supplying adults but also supplying unregulated, dodgy products to young people.”

Brian Marlow from legalise vaping Australia and the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance agreed, adding that the Morrison government had been told this would happen.

“Anti-vaping lobbyists pushed for the current regulations. We predicted these regulations would fail and create the black market, which is exactly what we’re now seeing,” Mr Marlow said.

“The government created the conditions for a black market to thrive and are then shocked when criminals sell to children.”

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