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Ministry of Health moves to ban electronic cigarettes

Smokers only allowed to buy deadly tobacco cigarettes in New Zealand? – Ministry of Health moves to ban nicotine electronic cigarettes

The Ministry of Health has moved to bar the popular nicotine electronic cigarette Hydro, (sold on-line and through 900 retailers) on the grounds that such sales are in breach of the Medicines Act. End Smoking NZ believes this is against the public interest and wants the Ministry to urgently review its policy on nicotine electronic cigarettes. Simply because nicotine is listed as a medicine under the Medicines Act, this paradoxically results in cigarettes containing nicotine being legal, whereas e-cigarettes containing nicotine are not.

As no electronic cigarette has yet been approved as a medicine anywhere in the world, End Smoking NZ wants to see selected flameless nicotine e-cigarette brands approved for sale under the Smoke-free Environments Act as an alternative to deadly tobacco cigarettes.

The price of tobacco cigarettes will rise again on 1 January to over $15 a pack and while some will quit smoking , many more would be willing to switch to a safer product such as nicotine electronic cigarettes, at half the price, if they could buy them at the corner dairy, says End Smoking NZ chair Dr Murray Laugesen.

Dr Laugesen says it is clearly not in the public interest to run a prosecution against sellers of nicotine e-cigarettes which the Ministry of Health itself says are “far safer” than tobacco cigarettes, when banning them is expected to send hundreds of users back to smoking tobacco cigarettes. In 2010 End Smoking NZ identified e-cigarettes as one of the top four policies for ending tobacco smoking in New Zealand in an article in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

Prohibition of either tobacco or nicotine requires public debate

End Smoking NZ says prohibition of non-medicinal nicotine is a step too far, which government officials should not be imposing without genuine public consultation, scientific, public and political debate. Smokers’ rights of access to life-saving substitutes to smoking should be no less than their current rights of access to buy cigarettes.

Medicinal nicotine inhalers are sold in pharmacies but smokers prefer nicotine e-cigarettes which also provide a visible harmless vapour. Flameless e-cigarettes replace the smoking experience as well as providing nicotine. E-cigarettes without nicotine are still available, but are less effective at replacing cigarettes, for most smokers.

Persistent tobacco smokers face a lifetime 50 percent risk of dying early, and according to End Smoking NZ are entitled to have access to buy whatever nicotine product would most help them quit. Nicotine products do not cause cancer or heart disease, unlike smoked tobacco products, Laugesen says.

“If there is a tiny risk from nicotine, many smokers are prepared to take that risk, rather than run the deadly risks of smoking tobacco. Smokers interested in switching to nicotine electronic cigarettes should be able to buy them over the counter at any dairy or supermarket, just like tobacco cigarettes.

“Smokers are not asking for the Ministry of Health to subsidise their switch to e-cigarettes. If e-cigarettes help them stop smoking and they like it, they will pay for it. Most smokers interested in e-cigarettes are not sick and don’t want a medicine, they want a lifestyle. Currently smokers can buy cigarettes from some 10,000 retailers, but would not in effect be able to buy nicotine electronic cigarettes in New Zealand.”

Harmful health effects of banning nicotine electronic cigarettes.

The key to quitting? A number of research reports have shown impressive quitting rates in e-cigarette users. The Ministry of Health could be throwing away the key for the thousands of smokers who want a lifestyle alternative to smoking, one that replaces their smoking experience, not just the nicotine.

Low toxicity substitute passed over: Minus smoke and flame, inhaled vapour from e-cigarettes is rated at under 2 percent of cigarette smoke toxicity. No such product qualifies as a medicine, but many smokers want them.

High risk of smokers returning to smoking and early deaths from smoking: E-cigarette users in overseas surveys say if they can't get their e-cigarette nicotine they will return to smoking. As one in two persistent smokers die early, hundreds of avoidable potential deaths could be expected due to resumption of smoking.

Why not wait for research results? Results are due by late 2013 from the current government-funded national research trial on the safety and effectiveness of nicotine electronic cigarettes at the University of Auckland. This is the first big trial of its kind anywhere in the world. This trial is testing the same nicotine e-cigarette as the Ministry wants to now ban from sale. If there was anything seriously wrong with this brand, it would have been pulled from the trial long before now.


Dr Laugesen has researched e-cigarettes for the World Health Organization, universities and e-cigarette companies in various countries.

Critique of the Ministry’s current 2012 policy on electronic cigarettes.

The Finance and Expenditure Select Committee reported to Parliament this month calling for more research on nicotine electronic cigarettes. End Smoking NZ is undertaking such research, but wants the Ministry of Health to adopt a nicotine electronic cigarette policy better designed to achieve the government’s 2025 Smokefree nation goal.

Our critique of the current policy is this:

1) Nicotine is sold in nicotine patches and gum, but 99 percent of nicotine used is inhaled from tobacco products controlled by the Smoke-free Environments Act. The Medicines Act inclusion of nicotine as a medicine in medications, obviously does not apply to nicotine (which is made from tobacco) inhaled for pleasure instead of tobacco.

2) Banning nicotine e-cigarettes hinders the attainment of the 2025 smokefree nation goal, which requires nearly 600,000 smokers to quit. A legal framework is needed whereby smokers could give up tobacco smoking and switch to nicotine inhalation. E-cigarettes, as they improve further, could become the deal breaker for a smokefree nation, Dr Laugesen said.

3) The current policy bans a near-harmless product while safeguarding the deadly tobacco cigarette monopoly on inhaled nicotine. Every packet of five nicotine cartridges (costing about $25) is equal to 50 to 100 tobacco cigarettes not smoked. These electronic cigarettes allow smokers to quit the most harmful aspect of their habit without giving up on nicotine. The more nicotine they contain the more effective they are likely to appeal to smokers and stop their cravings.

4) The Ministry’s current policy misses the opportunity to improve quality of e-cigarettes. Import of the world’s best e-cigarette brands could be allowed, and the rest excluded.

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