Published Thursday 17 Mar 2022

A study conducted recently by the University of Otago and Regional Public Health Wellington has found that despite recent changes to vaping regulations in New Zealand, some retailers are circumventing regulations designed to protect young people from exposure to vaping products and promotions.

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act 2020 aims to discourage young people and non-smokers from vaping, and regulate the promotion and distribution of vaping products. The Act classifies vaping stores as either generic or specialist. Generic stores (typically convenience stores and petrol stations) may sell only mint, menthol and tobacco flavoured vaping liquids, while specialist stores are able sell a much more diverse range of vaping liquid flavours.

Following a review of 607 applications to register as a specialist vape store, the researchers noted that 86 of these applications appeared to have been submitted by convenience stores. They visited six of these stores and found five had constructed a new specialist vape store within the footprint of the existing convenience store. These changes enabled the convenience store to trade as a separate specialist store and sell more diverse vaping liquid flavours – such as fruit and dessert flavour options – that appeal to young people. “It’s unfortunate that we’re seeing this kind of development going on, where convenience stores are altering their operation to include a specialist vape store within their retail site,” says Andrea Boston, co-author of the study and senior public health advisor at Regional Public Health.

”Further, as many convenience stores operate with a sole member of retail staff at any one time, it is unclear how the observed changes affect staff members’ ability to enforce the R18 entry restrictions that apply to a vape store,” Ms Boston said.

The study also pointed out concerns around the location and density of vaping stores. Convenience stores are a feature of most residential neighbourhoods, they are often near schools where young people will pass by or make purchases from. “If this trend continues, we could see more rangatahi exposed to vape stores and promotional signage in their neighbourhood. We are concerned this exposure could further normalise vaping for young people,” Ms Boston said.

“We would like to see more controls in place to prevent the ‘store-within-a-store’ setups we observed. We need to balance providing people who smoke with a reduced harm alternative while also protecting people who do not smoke from exposure to products and promotions that encourage vaping experimentation. Our observations question whether current regulations have achieved that balance and suggest on-going monitoring, and potentially stronger policy, is required,” Ms Boston said.

To counter evidence that vaping is increasing among young people who have never smoked, the researchers suggest that vaping products should be sold only in genuine specialist stores, where staff have expert knowledge of smoking to vaping transitions, and where the R18 age restriction can be enforced. Limiting the density of vape stores and where these stores may be located, could also help reduce vaping uptake by people who have never smoked.

Tobacco Journal Article:

Specialist vape store developments during the implementation of New Zealand’s Smokefree Environment and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Act 2020 – Andrea Boston, Lindsay Robertson and Professor Janet Hoek.

NZ Herald Article