Leading New Zealand academic says the World Health Organisation’s approach to vaping will protect the cigarette trade and cause more harm than good.

30 August 2019


In a comment published in the Lancet today, Emeritus Professor Robert Beaglehole says the World Health Organization (WHO) needs to embrace the potential of vaping to dramatically reduce the harms of smoking.

Read the Lancet comment here

The latest WHO report on tobacco has rejected the role of vaping in helping people quit smoking. Beaglehole, a former Director of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion at WHO, says: “It is disappointing that in its latest report, WHO is clinging to outdated ideas around smoking cessation. The rapid rise of smokefree nicotine products, especially vaping, is the most disruptive influence on smoking in decades and WHO should be embracing innovations that could save lives, not rejecting them”.

Beaglehole says that there is broad scientific consensus that non-combustible tobacco products, such as vaping, are substantially less harmful than smoking by up to 95%.

“People smoke for the nicotine but die from the tar. Electronic vaping products (e-cigarettes) deliver nicotine through a heated aerosol that contains nicotine, and flavourings; it is inhaled much like smoking but without the damaging by-products of burnt tobacco.

The key to the public health impact of vaping will be the willingness of more smokers to switch the way they use nicotine rather than to quit completely.”

As New Zealand prepares to regulate vaping and other smokeless nicotine products Beaglehole offers some words of caution: “Vaping and other smokefree products have the potential to reduce the enormous harm of smoked tobacco. The stakes of getting policy responses wrong are high, especially if an overly restrictive approach stops millions of the world’s smokers from accessing safer alternatives”.

“If we get this wrong and treat vaping products like smoked tobacco, we only serve to protect the stranglehold of cigarettes on the world’s nicotine users. It will be costly mistake, counted in even more needless deaths from smoking”.


Vaping in New Zealand

  • Daily prevalence of e-cigarettes for New Zealand adults is 2.6%[i].
  • Data from the Health Promotion Agency’s healthy lifestyles survey found that 47% of adult vapers are former smokers, 50% are current smokers and only 3% are never smokers[ii].
  • Fewer than 2% of Year 10 students in New Zealand use e-cigarettes daily[iii].
  • Year 10 students who smoke are more than 4 times more likely to try and e-cigarette than students who have never smoked.
  • Less than 1% of Year 10 students who have never smoked vape daily.


[i]Ministry of Health 2019. Annual Data Explorer 2017/18: New Zealand Health Survey [Data File]. URL: https://minhealthnz.shinyapps.io/nz-health-survey-2017-18-annual-data-explorer

[ii]Health Promotion Agency. Personal communication to B Youdan. June 2019.

[iii]ASH 2019. 2018 ASH Year 10 Snapshot Survey. Retrieved from www.ash.org.nz. August 2019.

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