Vaping industry stung by criticism in report

The vaping industry has come out swinging against an article that criticises the proliferation of vape shops, arguing more are needed.

A research letter in this week’s New Zealand Medical Journal outlined concerns about the growing vaping industry.

It revealed there were more than four times the number of specialist vape retailers (SVRs) as there were McDonald’s and KFC outlets.

However, the Vaping Industry Association of New Zealand (Vianz) chairman Jonathan Devery took issue with the figures.

"To compare the number of SVRs nationwide to McDonald’s and KFC outlets is extremely misleading — McDonald’s and KFC represent only a small subset of the total number of fast-food outlets across New Zealand.

"To compare a subgroup of the fast-food market with the entire SVR market is not an accurate comparison," Mr Devery said.

"New Zealand has over 8000 tobacco retailers nationwide. This means if we are to successfully stamp out smoking, vaping needs to be available in every location that tobacco is sold.

"Accessibility is even more important for communities where the health and financial burden from tobacco is higher (e.g. in Māori and Pacific peoples) — for vaping to remain an effective smoking cessation tool it needs to be as accessible as tobacco."

From August 2021 to March 2023, the Vaping Regulatory Authority approved nearly 1200 vaping stores nationwide.

A cursory online search revealed there were more than two dozen vaping stores in central Dunedin alone.

"Observations by Vianz members, supported by complaints from multiple community groups and the public, suggest that the government’s Vaping Regulatory Authority is not enforcing the regulations as was intended when issuing licences," Mr Devery said.

"Additionally, the current penalties for breaches of the regulations are not adequate enough to act as a deterrent. Vianz has been asking authorities to introduce far heavier penalties (e.g. $10,000) for businesses that sell to minors and aren’t adhering to the regulations."

Mr Devery estimated the vaping industry paid more than $3 million a year in fees and licences to enable the government to manage and enforce the regulations.

Prof Janet Hoek, of University of Otago, who co-authored the research letter, said the suggestion that as many vaping outlets were required as tobacco outlets was not logical.

"The solution to the problems created by the large number of tobacco retailers is simple: reduce the number of tobacco outlets.

"Fortunately, the government has recognised that logic and, from July next year, the 8000 outlets selling tobacco will decrease to around 600," she said.

Prof Hoek said simply making vaping products more available did not address people’s needs.

"The challenges of moving from smoking to vaping mean that people will benefit from advice that helps them manage this transition.

"Specialist vape stores are better placed to offer this advice, but their staff should have certified basic training in smoking cessation so they can support people who smoke to switch to vaping."

Since 2017, smoking rates in New Zealand have decreased from 14.1% to 8%.