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Alarming! Lockdown forces more Kiwis back to cigarettes

New Zealand’s lockdown has seen many ex-smokers return to cigarettes. Stress or boredom are often to blame, but brand-new retail restrictions on vape products are also having a negative impact, says the country’s leading Tobacco Harm Reduction consumer group.

The group’s comments follow mental health experts warning that the extended lockdown could be having a severe impact on those battling addictions such as smoking. On top of lockdown-related stresses, Kiwis now face the additional burden of restricted access to safer nicotine products.

“In their wisdom, legislators have made the most popular vape flavours less available. In doing so they have effectively made tobacco products more available, particularly during lockdown,” says Nancy Loucas, co-director of the Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy (AVCA).

New Zealand’s lockdown sees physical specialist vape stores, which are permitted to sell a wide range of vape flavours, completely closed in Auckland while in Alert Level 4. The rest of the country has been in Alert Level 3, enabling vape stores to sell but only through contactless ‘click and collect’. Meanwhile, Kiwis can still go to the supermarket or service station and pick up smokes as readily as ever.

Last year Parliament passed the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Act. It led to general retailers such as supermarkets, service stations and convenience stores limited to just selling three flavours – mint, menthol and tobacco – from 11 August this year.

“The timing couldn’t be worse. The flavour restrictions took effect on 11 August and by 17 August we were in a total nationwide lockdown.

“Those going to their local supermarket or service station can access every tobacco brand under the sun, but only a very limited range of vape flavours. That’s not good when you’re trying to give up smoking.

“Full access to the cancer sticks yet limited access to safer alternatives is sadly only going to slowdown New Zealand achieving smokefree status,” says Ms Loucas.

She says smokers and ex-smokers wanting to access the most popular adult flavours, such as fruit and dessert, can purchase online but that too is coming under pressure.

“New Zealand Post has now capped the number of daily courier deliveries from Kiwi vape companies and distributors. So, we have physical vape stores either completely closed or restricted, general retail limited to selling just three vape flavours, and online operators struggling to get vape products to customers. The tobacco giants must be laughing all the way to the bank,” she says.

AVCA says New Zealand’s lockdown and latest Covid outbreak is also diverting resource and attention away from the Government delivering on its Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan. After public consultation six months ago, Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall is tasked with finalising plan and putting it into action.

“The Government’s smokefree action plan aims to seriously curb access to, and the appeal of, cigarettes and tobacco products. That will help swing the pendulum back to safer nicotine products such as vaping. However, the longer that plan is delayed, the harder it will be to achieve,” says Nancy Loucas.

About AVCA

AVCA was formed in 2016 by vapers across New Zealand wanting their voices heard in local and central government. All members are former smokers who promote vaping to help smokers quit - a much less harmful alternative to combustible tobacco products. AVCA does not have any affiliation or vested interest in industry - tobacco, pharmaceutical and/or the local vaping manufacturing or retail sectors.

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