Raising Vape Sale Age To 21 Among Recommendations From ASH To Tackle Youth Vaping Numbers

Press Release

8 May 2023

Action for Smokefree 2025 (ASH) has outlined new proposals to help tackle youth vaping in New Zealand.

“We do not want young people, most of whom have never smoked, to vape, but youth vaping is not a simple ‘one size fits all’ problem,” ASH Director Ben Youdan says.

Most young people who vape are not addicted, but are experimenters, or occasional users vaping weekly or less. Some will experience cravings that start to interrupt their thinking, and a minority will struggle with withdrawal to a point that it affects daily functioning.

“We need to balance preventing non-smoking young people from vaping, but at the same time support addicted adults who smoke to switch to vaping, as they are at a great risk of dying from tobacco use,” Mr Youdan says. Smoking remains responsible for the death of almost 5000 Kiwis each year in Aotearoa.

ASH says we therefore need a response that adapts to youth needs. This includes skills to navigate the social availability and influences of vaping, and supportive interventions for people struggling with dependence.

“We would strongly discourage the Australian approach of banning vaping outside of prescription but leaving cigarettes for sale everywhere. This policy will prolong the life of the tobacco industry there and leave nicotine users with only the most dangerous choice. Cigarette companies will be thanking the Australian health minister for protecting their patch. ““Instead, we should draw on decades of lessons from drug harm reduction, and do what we know works, not follow dangerous experiments in Australia” says Mr Youdan.

ASH encourages the Government to take three actions:

1. Strengthen and enforce current regulations on marketing, access and sales of vapes to protect young people, this includes raising the age restriction to 21 years old.

2. Reduce the appeal of vapes to children and emphasise that vapes are helping adults addicted to smoking quit

3. Provide resources to teachers and others working with and caring for young people to support vaping prevention and cessation

New Zealand was late in enacting vaping regulations in November 2020. In the six years before vaping legislation was implemented, daily vaping increased from 1% to almost 10% for Year 10 students and from 1% to 18.6% for under 25s.

ASH is concerned about these levels, but notes that since the regulations were introduced in August 2021, the rate of increase in daily vaping in youth has slowed markedly and was just over ten percent (10.1%) last year, and regular vaping, defined as at least once a month, has decreased. This suggests that the regulations are starting to have an impact.

ASH’s recommendations aim to improve prevention in the first place, through strict implementation of the regulations and greater support for young vapers.

Other key points from ASH’s recommendations paper

- After 15 years of vaping in NZ there have been no documented cases of chronic health impacts in people who have vaped for many years

- Most vapes in New Zealand contain nicotine, but nicotine in vapes does not pose serious health risks. However, it can create dependence in some young, never-smokers who vape

-International evidence suggests that most young vapers who have never smoked are only occasional users or experimental users and do not show signs of dependence

-There is no evidence that vaping is acting as a gateway into youth smoking. Data from the ASH year 10 survey, and the New Zealand Health Survey show that youth smoking rates continue to decline, despite increased vaping

Vaping and quitting smoking

Record rates of declining adult smoking in Aotearoa are linked to a rapid rise in adult vaping, the greatest year-on-year decline in smoking in a generation occurred last year. Many early deaths are being avoided as tens of thousands of smokers have switched to the much less harmful, and less expensive, products.

With New Zealand’s health system already under immense strain, encouraging and supporting adults who smoke to quit is a win-win situation – helping them and reducing the burden on the health services.

ASH strongly discourages punitive approaches or actions which ostracize young people. Decades of evidence from smoking, drug and alcohol interventions show that these approaches can increase harm by making the behaviour covert and discouraging people from seeking help.

Supporting schools

Many schools report that vaping is a significant issue and that they are not well equipped to deal with the problem, so schools are often conflicted between punitive approaches and those that build positive relationships with students.

Our recommendations include resources and advice for schools which are based on proven best practice and evidence around mana-enhancing approaches to young people’s health and well-being.

ASH’s new position statement and recommendations on youth vaping can be found here.

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