On Thursday 9 December 2021, the New Zealand government announced it would ban all sales of cigarettes for its future generations, as part of the country’s push to go smoke-free by 2025. New legislation means the legal smoking age will increase every year to create a smoke-free generation of New Zealanders, associate health minister Doctor Ayesha Verrall, who is spearheading the plan, explained in an interview with The Associated Press. “This is a historic day for the health of our people,” she said.
Given how the minimum age to buy cigarettes in New Zealand is 18 at the moment, the lifetime smoking ban for youth wouldn’t have an impact for a few years. This means, in theory at least, 65 years after the law takes effect, shoppers could still buy cigarettes—but only if they could prove they were at least 80 years old. Meanwhile, anyone who’s currently 14 or under will never be able to buy tobacco in the country. Legally, at least.
That’s not the only thing New Zealand implemented in an attempt to reach its goal of having fewer than 5 per cent of New Zealanders smoking by 2025. Other parts of the plan include allowing only the sale of tobacco products with very low nicotine levels and slashing the number of stores that can sell them. The changes would be introduced over time from 2022 to help retailers adjust.
According to The Independent, smoking rates have steadily fallen in New Zealand for years, with only about 11 per cent of adults now smoking and 9 per cent smoking every day. The daily rate among Indigenous Māori remains much higher at 22 per cent. Under the government’s new plan, a task force would be created to help reduce smoking among Māori.
Big tax increases have already been imposed on cigarettes in recent years and some question why they aren’t hiked even higher. “We don’t think tax increases will have any further impact,” Doctor Verrall said to NPR. “It’s really hard to quit and we feel if we did that, we’d be punishing those people who are addicted to cigarettes even more.”
As of today, smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand. It accounts for one in four cancers and results in around 5,000 smoking-related premature deaths every year. “While smoking rates are heading in the right direction, we need to do more, faster to reach our goal. If nothing changes, it would be decades till Māori smoking rates fall below 5 percent, and this government is not prepared to leave people behind,” Doctor Verrall shared in a government statement.
Not included in this most recent legislation is a ban on vaping, which studies have shown is about two to three times more prevalent than smoking in New Zealand. Meanwhile, some health experts in the country have already criticised the upcoming ban, such as Karen Chhour, the spokesperson for New Zealand’s opposing right-wing ACT party, who called the new changes “bad policy making.”
“The Government’s gradual ban on all tobacco sales is prohibition plain and simple and it will eventually create a black market,” she said in a statement.
If you ask me, the Juuling trend has by now been outdated for a while. Yet, somehow, I still see people gladly inhaling the flavoursome smoke from their little pen look-a-like on a daily basis, not knowing exactly what they’re pumping in and out of their lungs. Just a few days ago, a series of severe lung disease cases appeared in the U.S. and were quickly linked to vaping. The headlines are more than alarming, affirming that e-cigarettes are to be blamed for this disease. Yet after researching the matter, it is clear that no one knows anything for sure. So what is this lung disease, and is it really connected to vaping?
According to public health officials in the U.S., hundreds of people have suffered from a severe lung illness, and 5 people died from it over the past three months. In many of these cases, healthy people, sometimes in their teens or early 20s, were affected by the multistate outbreak of pulmonary disease associated with e-cigarette products. Because all of the cases are related to people who confirmed they vape, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are focusing on trying to figure out which specific part of vaping is dangerous.
Early symptoms of the disease include coughing, fever, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. A simple cough quickly turns into extreme shortness of breath and leads people to urgent hospitalisation. Public health officials announced that “anyone who has shortness of breath that lasts more than a few hours or becomes severe should seek medical attention quickly.” On lung scans, the illness looks like a bacterial or viral pneumonia that has attacked the lungs, but no infection has been found in testing.
E-cigarettes have now been around for years, though, so why is this outbreak only happening now? News outlets feed readers with two different theories. The first one, presented only by some health officials, is that a dangerous chemical called vitamin E acetate has been added into the pipeline of some vaping products. The second theory is that e-cigarettes have always been this dangerous but that doctors only realised recently where the disease comes from due to vaping’s recent growing popularity. Both theories, however, are still surrounded by uncertainty, with specialists guessing what to them might seem most plausible.
The illness is clearly spreading across the U.S., but could it also be affecting other countries, such as the U.K.? According to figures by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), between 2015 and 2018 the number of people over 16 vaping in the U.K. shot up from 3.7 percent of the population to 6.3 percent. As I previously said, young people are still vaping, Juuling, you name it. Yet according to Martin Dockrell, head of tobacco control at Public Health England, Brits can all relax. Apparently, a distinction between vaping in the U.S. and the U.K. should be made.
Screen Shot spoke to the co-founder of the association Parents Against Vaping, Dorian Fuhrman, about vaping regulations in the U.S., the association’s work, and how teenagers are the main target customers. “97 percent of kids in the U.S. who vape use flavours, so what we try to do is to support legislation,” Fuhrman told Screen Shot, adding that, “In America, the FDA banned all flavoured cigarettes in 2009 but only left menthol cigarettes on the market, which was a big mistake. So now, there’s no reason for them to allow flavoured e-cigarettes because it’s the same issue, it’s the flavours that attract the kids.” In the U.K., the nicotine levels available in vape liquids are much lower, while in the U.S., as Fuhrman explains, “there’s no limit on the nicotine levels.”
What most people aren’t aware of while reading the recent headlines is that most cases in the U.S. had been linked to people using illegal vaping fluid—some homemade ones, some bought on the black market, some containing THC, or synthetic cannabinoids-like spice. In other words, Americans have been smoking something else than your typical vape pen.
That said, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, and while Martin Dockrell makes a clear distinction between both countries, many vapers in the U.K. also use vaping fluids containing THC. The NHS’ website states that, “In the UK e-cigarettes are tightly regulated for safety and quality,” but that many of the vaping liquids containing THC are imported legally.
Whether the liquids available illegally in the U.K. contain vitamin E acetate or not remains unclear. As for whether e-cigarettes really are the cause of lung disease, well, no one seems to be sure of that either. So, just to be on the safe side, let’s stop vaping, at least until we finally get some accurate information, or least until we forget about the multistate epidemic in the U.S. and carry on with our destructive lifestyles.