When it comes to regulating electronic cigarettes, most countries usually consider two options – regulating them either as tobacco products (even though they contain no tobacco) or as medicinal products, both of which involve severe restrictions that keep e-cigs from fulfilling their full potential. Well, one country is doing the unthinkable, regulating electronic cigarettes as consumer products.
The United States, the European Union as well as many other countries around the world have chosen to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products, which makes them subject to a variety of restrictions that stifle innovation, makes them less accessible to users, and creates the illusion that they are just as bad as actual tobacco products, despite scientific evidence showing otherwise. The reasons cited for this measure vary from the precautionary principle (“we just don’t know about them yet”), contested theories (the gateway to smoking for youths theory), controversial research and the involvement of Big Tobacco in the industry, just to name a few.
Arguments like the fact that e-cigarettes contain no tobacco and shouldn’t be in the same category with products that are known to cause the early demise of 50% of users have simply been ignored by most countries, but not in New Zealand, where the Government has recently announced that e-cigarettes will be regulated as consumer products, as early as 2018.
This is a huge deal! Instead of following the example of the United States, or worse, Australia, the island nation has chosen to legalize the sale of electronic cigarettes without them being subjected to the same rules as tobacco cigarettes. That means no plain packaging and no excise tax! Associate Health Minister Nicky Wagner said that the Government considered imposing a higher tax on vaping goods, but ultimately decided against it in order to make them a more appealing alternative to cigarettes.
“I think that’s an important thing so when a smoker goes into the dairy (convenience store) he or she will see cigarettes at a very high price and e-cigarettes much cheaper,” Wagner said.
The deputy minister also said that she was not overly concerned about tobacco companies also being involved in the e-cigarette business, as long as people stop smoking. “I think the important thing is we want the health outcomes. Whoever sells them…I don’t think is really important.”
Instead of restricting access to e-cigarettes and taxing them into oblivion, New Zealand has decided to focus on regulations that keep these products out of the hands of minors and ensure the proper quality standards for consumers. The new rules include restricting sales to people 18 years and over, banning vaping in indoor areas where smoking is prohibited, and restrictions on advertising.
Retailers won’t be allowed to advertise on radio, TV and billboards, but they will be able to display the products at the point-of-sale.
Nicky Wagner said that even though the effects of long-term use of electronic cigarettes are still relatively unknown, the scientific evidence we have so far has been enough to convince the Government of the “low risk” posed by these products in comparison with tobacco cigarettes.
“Around the world we can’t get clear research about this. But what we’re thinking is they are about 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes,” Wagner said. “I have [tried vaping]. But I’m not very good at it but I don’t smoke either. I suggest anyone who smokes here has a go at vaping, too.”
In addition to these changes, a regulatory framework will be developed to provide a pathway for emerging tobacco and nicotine-delivery products (e.g heat-not-burn cigarettes and vaporisers) to be regulated as consumer products in future.
Selling nicotine e-cigarettes and e-liquid is currently illegal in New Zealand, but no retailers have been prosecuted for openly selling them.