A shining example for the rest of the world to follow, New Zealand has recently passed legislation to regulate vaping as a consumer product, resulting in the lowest smoking rates in the country’s history. The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act, which strikes a balance between making vaping products available as a tool for smoking cessation and ensuring these products are kept out of the hands of those who are too young, has led smoking rates to fall faster in one year than they have ever fallen. In contrast to the progress that New Zealand has achieved, the uninformed policies pursued by lawmakers in the United States have actually led to a sharp increase in the sale of cigarettes over this same time period, the first such increase in two decades.
According to the most recent iteration of New Zealand’s Public Health Survey, increased access to vaping products has correlated with a significant decrease in the number of adults who smoke cigarettes, with current smokers declining from 13.7% to 10.9% and daily smokers declining from 11.9% to 9.4%. These reductions are a significant step forward in New Zealand’s efforts to be smoke free by 2025.
The precipitous decline in smoking rates over the previous year while use of electronic cigarettes rose provides the first clear population-level data to support the notion that vaping products are contributing to reduced smoking in New Zealand. This notion is supported by the observation that the most significant decline in smoking occurred in younger age groups where electronic cigarette use showed an increase in prevalence.
The legislation, coupled with an effective government-run education campaign, was created based on the government’s position that vaping is a safer alternative to cigarettes. This idea is bolstered by research showing that, as opposed to combustible tobacco products, e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful. The legislation includes several new safety regulations that ensure access to safe and effective vaping products. Among the most impactful of these new regulations, lawmakers took the unprecedented step of allowing retailers to display approved harm reduction messages on their vaping products. This provision helps New Zealanders to make informed medical decisions.
The education campaign also emphasizes the importance of reducing barriers to vaping products that help smokers quit their deadly habit. Currently approved stop-smoking medicines are limited in their effectiveness because they fail to adequately address the sensory, behavioral, and social aspects of smoking that make the practice more enjoyable. E-cigarettes, the campaign notes, are an effective method of smoking cessation because they provide the smoking experience without many of the harmful chemicals found in cigarettes. A recent clinical trial in the UK found that vaping is almost twice as effective as nicotine replacement therapies in helping smokers quit.
As a result of reliable medical information and reduced barriers to access these life-saving products, quit rates in New Zealand increased markedly to 19%, up significantly from 13.4% in the previous public health survey. Quit rates rose dramatically among all ethnic groups, with particularly large increases among Māori and Pacific peoples.
Despite New Zealand’s success, the United States has pursued a harsh crackdown on vaping products, leading to an increase in cigarette smoking. Data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shows that annual cigarette sales increased in 2020, the first time in two decades. The increase in cigarette sales follows a concerted effort by well-funded anti-vaping activists to distort the science and data regarding vaping to pass laws restricting consumer access, causing a significant drop in the number of smokers quitting, as well as leading smokers who had previously made the switch returning to combustible tobacco. The United States will continue on its path of increased smoking rates if Congressional Democrats get their way and impose a slew of new Federal Taxes on e-cigarettes, a move that academics estimate would lead to 2.75 million additional smokers.
This should be a wake-up call to those who believe that the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns were the driving force behind increased cigarette smoking. Despite having significantly tighter restrictions and lockdowns in New Zealand, it’s the Americans who have drastically increased their cigarette intake. By implementing commonsense regulations and providing their citizens with accurate medical information, New Zealand has been able to reduce smoking rate and move closer to their goal of being smoke free by 2025. U.S. policy makers need listen to the science and reduce barriers to these lifesaving products.