Opinion: Recently the Vaping Industry Association of New Zealand (VIANZ) replied to a piece colleagues and I wrote in the New Zealand Medical Journal where we discussed the proliferation of vape outlets. The industry response said it “has repeatedly asked for stronger steps to be taken by Government to protect our rangatahi”. We agree.

The Government should clearly do more. However, responsibility lies not only with the Government; VIANZ also has a role to play. We offer some straightforward suggestions that could show a commitment to protecting young people.

Cap vape store numbers and reduce these over time

The Vaping Industry Association could publicly oppose the proliferation of vape stores, particularly the high number of outlets now operating in some city centres. If it believes vape store numbers should match smoked tobacco outlets then, over the next year, total vape store numbers should reduce to just 600 – the same number of tobacco retail outlets that will be operating from July 2024. Further, as smoking prevalence declines, tobacco retailer numbers should decrease further and, alongside that, so too should vape store numbers.

Call on members to cease operating within 300m of schools

It could address the troubling situation that many existing vape stores, including Specialist Vape Retailers, are located near schools. Evidence that more than 80 percent of specialist vape stores are situated within 1km of schools, suggests the Specialist Vape Retailers sector represented by the Vaping Industry Association has a key opportunity to protect rangatahi by calling on these stores to cease operating.

Reduce young people’s exposure to vaping products

It should require its members to ensure none of its products are visible from outside Specialist Vape Retailers. Many vape stores have large window displays featuring visually appealing vapes and e-liquids that are visible to all who walk by, including young people under 18. It could make clear its expectation that responsible store owners ensure only people over 18 may view the products available.

Apologise for past marketing that targeted young people
Members have previously sponsored events such as music festivals, which are more likely to have been attended by young people who do not smoke than by older people who have been unable to quit after many years of smoking.

These promotions have positioned vaping as a social practice rather than a tool that offers people who have been unable to quit smoking using established methods a less harmful option. Not surprisingly, this marketing has piqued young people’s interest in vaping and encouraged vaping uptake.

Actively support vaping cessation
Evidence that, though less harmful than smoking, vaping is not risk-free suggests the Vaping Industry Association could also play a leading role in supporting people to stop smoking and vaping. Though many health experts agree that vaping exposes users to fewer harmful chemicals than smoking, they also agree people who switch from smoking to vaping should aim to stop vaping.

The Vaping Industry Association could support mandatory training requirements so all staff selling vaping products have a sound understanding of smoking (and vaping) cessation strategies, and can advise customers appropriately. 

A joint call for Government action

The Vaping Industry Association also noted “the Government’s Vaping Regulatory Authority’s (VRA) [failure to enforce] the regulations as was intended [sic] when issuing licences.” Health researchers, communities, schools, parents, and rangatahi, have already called on the Government to strengthen enforcement and rigorously apply penalties set out in existing regulations.

The Vaping Industry Association’s support for stronger enforcement suggests the Government has a mandate for measures such as prohibiting store-within-a store SVRs, requiring those “approved” to cease trading, and making public information on compliance audits the Vaping Regulatory Authority undertakes, breaches detected, and enforcement action taken. The VRA should also explain delays in providing data on vaping returns (details of the vaping products sold by Specialist Vape Retailers); this information was due on January 31 this year but is still not available.

This is adapted from the latest Briefing from the Public Health Communication Centre – The rise and rise of specialist vape stores: Time for the Government to act

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