The exponential growth in specialist vape retailers across New Zealand over the last 12 months is something we should be concerned about says the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation’s Chief Executive Letitia Harding.
"In February 2022 there were 666 registered specialist vape retailers in New Zealand and as of today we now have 956. To put that into perspective there is a combined total of 267 KFCs and McDonald’s restaurants across New Zealand. We are hearing firsthand from communities who are saying they sick and tired of vape stores popping up all over the place, with their products showcased in store front windows," says Ms Harding.
While regulations exist to monitor vaping stores, the Foundation is concerned these are not being adequately policed, and that retailers are taking advantage of the current environment to maximise their profits.
"We do not need 956 specialist vape retailers. It means that vapes are easily accessible, very visible and can only be fuelling the epidemic of youth vaping in New Zealand," she says.
Of particular concern to the Foundation, is the prevalence of ‘specialist vape retailers’ that have been constructed within existing convenience store premises. "This is a loophole that many retailers have been using to enable them to sell more vape products," she explains. "Only specialist vape retailers can sell a full range of vape ‘flavours’ under current rules."
The Foundation would like to see enforcement officers visiting all such premises to verify that they are compliant with current rules, and if not, revoking their status as a specialist vape retailer immediately.
The Foundation believes the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Amendment Bill, which aims to radically transform rules around smoked tobacco products, is a timely opportunity to address the harms being caused by vaping products. In its submission on the bill, the Foundation called for the introduction of greater controls for vaping retailers and a reduction in the nicotine content of vaping products.
"This bill is a game-changer for New Zealand in addressing the harms caused by tobacco cigarettes, but we must also address ENDS (electronic nicotine delivery systems) products and their widespread use among young people," says Dr Stuart Jones, Respiratory Consultant and Advisor on the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board.
"We already have far too many of our youth addicted to nicotine from the use of vaping products. We cannot wait another few years for better regulations around ENDS products, as the scale of this problem will only continue to grow. We need to get the nicotine content in vaping products reduced as a matter of urgency. We need to get the retailers out from our school surrounds. And we need better policing of these retailers," he says. "The time to act is now."