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The Press-News column. June 10

Do e-cigarettes have a role to play as NZ pursues being “Smokefree by 2025?”

Since returning home from overseas, it’s been heartening to catch up with the headway the city council is finally making in confronting the flood threat, plaguing some pockets of Christchurch. On a walk last week along the banks of the Heathcote, it was reassuring to see the immediate mitigation work underway, including dredging and de-silting, which the community has been clamouring for. Top marks to the council’s Flooding Taskforce, assiduously led by Mike Gillooly, for unleashing a multi-pronged suite of measures. Adjacent to the river, as I strolled through the pocket playground, a resident was berating a parent for smoking in a “smoke-free park.” As it was, the individual wasn’t actually smoking but “vaping”, emitting the vapours of an electronic cigarette. The stand-off personified the quandary our regulatory authorities are grappling with, as e-cigarettes proliferate.  To what extent should their sale and use be regulated and sanctioned, under our smoke-free legal framework? Several of my mates swear by e-cigarettes as the great circuit-breaker from tobacco addiction. Yes, they are still getting their nicotine fix, but they’re no longer pumping up to 4000 toxic chemicals, tar and carcinogens into their bloodstream. No stinky breath. No stinky clothes. No passive smoking danger. One of my mates has just taken the final step, and quit “vaping.” E-cigarettes are sweeping the world – in the UK alone, sales have tripled in the past two years. The British government is now considering prescribing them as a subsidised smoking cessation product. Two leading clinical studies published in the Lancet, from Auckland University and the University College of London, reaffirm the power of e-cigarettes to help smokers quit tobacco. Both studies conclude that smokers who use e-cigarettes are far more likely to quit, than those who use will power alone, or rely on the replacement therapies of nicotine patches and gum. But in this country, ASH is demonising e-cigarettes as the “alcopops of the smoking world” claiming they normalise smoking and will lure teenagers to tobacco. What sensationalist, sticky-beaked claptrap. London’s Professor Robert West says there is no such evidence of that, particularly when e-cigarettes are sold as an R18 product. Interestingly, one of New Zealand’s leading smoke-free crusaders, Dr. Murray Laugesen has parted ways with ASH, and is urging the Ministry of Health to stop faffing about over e-fags, and formally recognise the product has a role to play as a positive alternative. If New Zealand is serious about reaching the lofty summit of being  “Smokefree in 2025”, surely the e-cigarettes revolution  should be embraced, not shunned and side-lined in a cloud of legal ambiguity.

Mike Yardley’s weekly current affairs column, first published in The Press. June 10.


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