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Smoking, together with other high-risk ways of tobacco use, is associated with 6 million deaths worldwide, every year. Despite the efforts of the World Health Assembly to eliminate the prevalence of tobacco use, it remains widespread and even increases globally. New Zealand has been aggressively leading this fight with its 2025 goal of keeping traditional cigarette smoking prevalence at a low 5%. Though many countries have reacted negatively to e-cigarettes since its commercial launch, we’ve seen a shift in support. In late 2017, New Zealand Ministry of Health tells MPs that vaping is better than smoking and that there is “emerging evidence they do help people quit”.
Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist and inventor, quit smoking after his father who smoked heavily died of lung cancer. This inspired the development of the modern electronic cigarettes, intended to provide an alternative to smoking. Its design patent was registered in 2003. From the Chinese domestic market, e-cigs found their way to the European and US markets. Dissatisfied users created a demand that led to product design polishes, and eventually, a selection of vaping gadgets were introduced.
Did you know that the earliest electronic cigarette can be traced back to 1963? Herbert A. Gilbert patented “a smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” where burning tobacco in paper was replaced with heated, drippy, flavoured air. The patent was granted in 1965 but received little attention because smoking was still fashionable. An invention too ahead of its time, it was never commercialised.
Over the past decade, the use of e-cigarettes has changed dramatically. Beyond smoking cessation, vaping has become a culture. Though much less harmful than conventional combustible cigarettes, e-cigs and other vaping devices may still contain varying amounts of nicotine. Thus, they produced disagreements and intense debate among tobacco control and public health researchers and advocates. Arguments revolve around:
Even before the swell in vaping popularity, the New Zealand government already has an existing SFEA (Smoke-free Environments Act) 1990 clause banning the import of oral tobacco products. This national policy was used in the regulation of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and e-liquids, considering them as nicotine delivery devices and non-cigarette tobacco products. But just before the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 7) at the Framework Convention on Climate Change, among UN participating countries, the NZ government announced the planned amendment of the SFEA to reverse the ban on sales of nicotine for vaping.
The amended regulations include governing marketing, quality of, and access to vaping devices and e-liquids. By mid to late 2018, vape products would be made available where smoking tobacco products can be bought. Marketing of (except point-of-sale advertising), sales to under 18-year-olds, and vaping at work and other where smoking is prohibited under the SFEA would still be restricted. Product safety requirements would also be implemented, for example, on nicotine concentration. Further plans of establishing pre-market approval process for new product and any other existing harm-reduced alternatives to traditional combustible tobacco smoking.
Though we’ve seen varied views and mixed support for vaping in New Zealand, the position is changing and shifting towards acceptance. The Ministry of Health, for one, stated in March 2017 that they could not confidently recommend e-cigarettes and other vape gadgets as smoking cessation tools due to insufficient evidence.
But in October 2017, they released an announcement of their intent in supporting smokers to use e-cigarettes as a tool to stop smoking. To do this, they’ve put their focus on harm reduction that will eventually lead to successful cessation. In a survey conducted on NZ smokers, more than half at 58% considered e-cigs as a smoking cessation aid, 41% an acceptable replacement product for nicotine therapy, and a third believed that it could help people who want to quit.
In a short span of time, a strong scientific consensus reinforcing that vaping is far better than smoking has been established. Aside from nicotine, combustible cigarettes also consist of 7,000 chemicals with at least 250 known to be harmful. These toxins and carcinogens can cause cancers of the lung, mouth, throat, oesophagus, larynx, liver, kidney, bladder, pancreas, cervix, stomach, colon, and rectum, as well as acute myeloid leukaemia. These can also cause a host of heart and pulmonary diseases, can lead to inflammation, and impair the body’s immune function. And the gravest part of this… is that, smoking is not only harmful to smokers but can also cause as much, if not more harm to non-smokers exposed to tobacco smoke.
E-cigarettes and other vaping gadgets, on the other hand, are stripped of these hundreds of harmful chemicals. Though vaping can still be a method of introducing nicotine to the body, e-liquids can be vaped in varying nicotine strengths. It can even be used without nicotine to satisfy the habit without inducing and feeding the addiction. Starting from stronger to lower concentrations is an excellent way to minimise withdrawal symptoms to aid smokers in their healthy transition to eventually become nicotine free.