The largest Kiwi-owned vape company, VAPO, believes the Ministry of Health’s proposal to ban sweeteners in e-liquids will cause ‘catastrophic disruption’ for those Kiwis relying on them to successfully transition from smoking to much less harmful and less expensive vaping.
As well as mass migration back to cigarettes, VAPO fears the move will wipe out New Zealand’s local, independent vape industry and hundreds of jobs.
VAPO and Alt New Zealand co-owners, Jonathan Devery and Ben Pryor, are now calling on Health Minister Andrew Little, Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall, and Small Business Minister Stuart Nash to closely assess the final vaping regulations for their health and economic impacts when they come back to Cabinet for authorisation by the end of June.
VAPO has submitted its feedback on the Ministry’s draft regulations. The company is now encouraging others in the industry, vapers, and smokefree champions to do the same by 5.00pm today.
The proposed sweetener ban comes on top of the flavour ban which will see general retailers – such as supermarkets, service stations and convenience stores – only allowed to sell the three flavours of mint, menthol and tobacco from 11 August.
“Our analysis shows over 95% of the 200-plus flavour concentrates in our manufacturing facility contain some form of sweetening agent. An all-out ban on sweeteners is essentially a total flavour ban, with nearly every vaping product immediately outlawed. Effectively, this proposed regulation kills the industry and local businesses will have no other option but to fold,” says Jonathan Devery.
The Kiwi vaping entrepreneurs say there’s no scientific basis whatsoever for a blanket ban. They say sweetening agents make flavours what they are, and flavours have proven key for adult smokers trying to quit deadly cigarettes.
“Vaping products without additives such as sweeteners quite simply results in flavours that will be unpalatable. The flavour of the products will be so bitter that very few, if any, individuals will be able to continue vaping. If this proposed regulation remains unchanged, traditional tobacco products will be more palatable than vaping products,” says Mr Devery.
What’s more, the company’s submission says a total ban was not Parliament’s intention when it passed the legislation to regulate vaping last year, nor does it reflect the advice from the Ministry of Health given during the bill’s consultation process.
VAPO says it’s dumbfounded by the sweetener ban given the Heath Promotion Agency’s past campaigns, and the Ministry of Health’s generally positive approach to the vaping industry and its products.
‘Not even the strongest vaping critics are lobbying to ban flavours or sweeteners in vaping,’ the submission says.
VAPO believes banning sweeteners also comes with considerable safety concerns. There is a risk that other flavouring chemicals will be used in higher, and potentially unsafe, quantities in an attempt to make flavours more palatable. Many vapers would also opt for unregulated and untested e-liquids on the black market.
As for any argument that sweet flavours attract children, VAPO says there has been no evidence tabled that shows sweeteners, or flavours in general, are attracting young non-smokers to vaping.
In fact, before the legislation was passed, the Ministry of Health accepted that flavours add to the appeal – therefore the success – of vaping as a quit smoking tool and never recommended the Health Select Committee should ban sweet flavours or flavours in general.
‘There is no justification for effectively removing all flavours available across the industry by banning sweeteners… any issues that may arise in the future with specific flavours can be addressed through the legislation now in place.’
VAPO says at the very least vaping must be on an even playing field with combustible cigarettes. Yet the Ministry of Health in ‘The Chemical Constituents in Cigarettes and Cigarette Smoke, March 2020’ report states that over 10% of cigarettes could be sugars and various sweeteners.
‘Consumers will simply not switch, and current vapers will move back to smoking once cigarettes start tasting better… Reducing the palatability of vaping will only help line the pockets of tobacco companies,’ wrote VAPO.
“This completely tips the balance back to the tobacco industry which have been preying on our whanau, family, and loved ones for generations. If unchanged, this move will only strengthen Big Tobacco’s grip on our at-risk communities for years to come,” says Jonathan Devery.
Submissions on the draft vaping regulations close on 5.00pm on Monday 15 March, via https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/smokefree-environments-and-regulated-products-act-1990-proposals-regulations