Vape shops outnumber KFC and Maccas

A collection of vape products. PHOTO: ODT FILES
A collection of vape products. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Vaping outlets significantly outnumber KFC and McDonald’s restaurants in New Zealand, according to the latest research.

In June, the government announced a suite of measures to tackle vaping, including preventing any new vaping locations within 300m of schools and marae.

However, Prof Janet Hoek, of the University of Otago, Wellington, said a study in June last year found that of the 645 specialist vaping retailers (SVRs) in New Zealand, 613 were within 1km of a school.

Since that study, SVR numbers had nearly doubled.

While the proposed proximity measures gave young people some belated protection, the omission of "outlet density measures", lack of retrospective authority and failure to cap overall store numbers left troubling gaps.

"By way of context, there are currently four times the number of SVRs than there are McDonald’s and KFC stores, and SVR outlets now exceed the number of community pharmacies in the country," she said.

"What we’ve seen is really aggressive marketing targeted at young people, who can very quickly become addicted to vaping."

The Vaping Act allows generic stores to sell vaping products featuring tobacco, menthol or mint flavours while the latter, operating as R18 stores, may sell a full flavour range.

Regulations implementing the Act came into effect in August 2021, and by November of that year the Vaping Regulatory Authority had approved 671 applications for specialist vaping stores.

By the end of March this year, a further 534 applications had been approved.

Prof Hoek said she was particularly concerned about the rising number of small retailers, typically dairy owners, who had subdivided their premises to include a specialist vape store.

"The evolution of these ‘stores-within-a-store’ means specialist vape stores are now located adjacent to schools and playgrounds, a development unlikely to support the legislation’s aim of minimising harm to young people and children," she said.

Prof Hoek said a simple way to address the problem would be to introduce a "sinking lid" policy, similar to what many councils did for gambling outlets.

"As long as vape stores operate, measures should limit young people’s exposure to vaping products. Specifically, retail displays in generic outlets should be disallowed and no store should feature vaping product displays that may be seen from outside that store," she said.

Prof  Hoekn, Bridget Rowse, of Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand national public health service, northern region, Nga Tai Ora , and Martin Witt, of the Cancer Society, outlined their concerns in a research letter in this week’s New Zealand Medical Journal.

Vaporium business development manager Cody Peneamene said he welcomed any measures that would bring the vaping market back into the "business of cessation, rather than the business of recreation".

"We’re seeing this proliferation of stores that focus predominantly on disposable vapes," he said.

Mr Peneamene said having restrictions on vaping around schools would discourage the recreational market, and this was "ultimately a good thing".

He said a "sinking lid" policy could be useful.

"There are nearly a dozen vaping stores on George St alone.

"It’s unnecessary, especially for a regulated product that should be treated as a health-based approach."

Mr Peneamene said Vaporium had "largely supported and backed the regulations of the Health Ministry".