Vaping Law Reform Fails to Deter Use, Says University of Otago

Cheap, high-nicotine vapes remain widely available in low-income neighbourhoods despite new regulations, a University of Otago audit has found.

In December 2023 the government introduced stricter regulations aimed at reducing youth vaping by curtailing the availability of cheap, high-nicotine e-cigarettes.

The study, published in today's New Zealand Medical Journal, tested specialist vape retailers' compliance with the new regulations for single-use vapes and is the first study to audit compliance with Aotearoa New Zealand's vaping-related legislation.

Lesieli Katoa

Lesieli Katoa

Co-author Lesieli Katoa, who conducted the audit as part of a summer studentship, says high-nicotine vapes remained widely available at prices school children could easily afford.

"There are serious community and public health concerns about underage sales and youth vaping as it may harm respiratory, cardiovascular, and oral health. The highly addictive nature of nicotine also means vapes may undermine psychological and social wellbeing, especially of our young people.

"Of particular concern is the high level of vaping among Māori and Pacific teenagers, especially as there are higher numbers of vape retailers in areas with higher Māori and Pacific populations.

"There is an urgent need to clarify rules, increase enforcement efforts, and disallow discounting and giveaways of vapes," she says.

For the study, Ms Katoa, as a 20-year-old 'mystery shopper', visited 74 specialist vape retailers in Wellington, Porirua, Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt in January 2024. They observed R18 signage, age verification practices, and prices and brands of the cheapest available vaping products. Low-price vapes were also purchased and inspected for compliance with new nicotine limits and safety regulations, which include having removable batteries and a child safety mechanism.

They found that, while all but three stores displayed R18 signage, it was suboptimal in 29 locations. Only one store asked for ID on entry to the R18 premises. Only half the stores asked for ID when a purchase was made, with one-third going ahead with the sale despite the buyer not providing any ID.

Single-use vapes remained available for $10 or less in most stores, and reusable starter kits were also widely available for $10–20. Discounted high-nicotine products were sold for as little as $2.50 each and most low-price products did not comply with the updated regulations.

"The cheapest products we purchased were available in the poorest neighbourhoods.

"Low-cost, addictive products remain highly visible and affordable to young people and will continue to undermine their wellbeing if decisive action is not taken.

"Māori and Pasifika don't have a level playing field when it comes to health and the oversupply of vapes and other unhealthy products in areas where they live is just one example of what is making it harder for communities to achieve their aspirations."

Ms Katoa says products offered for sale included both non-compliant 'old stock', often sold at heavily discounted prices, and ambiguous new products intended to meet, or circumvent, current regulations, most of which the researchers believe to be non-compliant.

"We believe there needs to be stronger policy around vapes in order to reduce their addictiveness and affordability. We also believe existing regulations require more comprehensive enforcement.

"Addressing the regulatory gaps and breaches the study identified must become an urgent priority if the Government is serious about reducing vaping among young people."


Specialist vape store audit reveals poor compliance with new e-cigarette regulations

Jude Ball, Lesieli Katoa, Janet Hoek

New Zealand Medical Journal (June 7, 2024)

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