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Kiwi Doc Blasts NZ Health Ministry

New Zealand's Health Ministry has deemed vaping devices containing nicotine to be illegal for some time now, but has not enforced a ban on the products. Until now. The New Zealand Herald reports that during the past few weeks the Ministry has been visiting vape shops threatening to prosecute if nicotine is not removed from the shelves. Nicotine in e-liquid, that is. Of course nicotine in highly poisonous combustible cigarettes may still be sold in more than 8000 outlets around the country.

Murray Laugesen, a scientist and health consultant with a long record of research on electronic cigarettes, has ridiculed the new effort to enforce the policy, giving reasons that will be no surprise to the vaping community worldwide.

Enforcement of this policy will drive people back to smoking, argues Dr. Laugesen, people with successful quit attempts in progress, through vaping. "The ministry itself says half of combustible cigarette smokers will die from smoking so what is being set up is a ridiculous policy which enables people to keep on smoking something which is going to kill them. It's a crazy policy."

Of course the Ministry's rationale is that "there is not enough evidence to recommend e-cigarettes as an aid to quitting smoking," so smokers should continue to use approved devices, while they "continue assessing new evidence." Of course it is widely recognised that "approved devices" do not work very well, and the evidence that vaping works better is rapidly growing. The only remaining unknown is just how much more effective e-cigarettes are. So while the ministry waits for the precise figures of improvement to come in, people should continue to use a certain killer.

Dr. Laugesen and the Herald mention the recent document published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in an interesting way. Most of the press coverage of the document has focused on the recommended public use ban, and have treated it as an anti-vaping document. Very few journalists reporting on the issue have noticed the slight but perhaps monumentally significant change in the WHO stance, a change that makes it a middle-of-the-road document. The WHO now admits that vaping is less dangerous than smoking, as Laugesen notes, but just how much remains unknown. (The WHO even states that physicians and cessation therapists may view e-cigarettes as a last-resort therapy, a potentially monumental shift in direction.) This means that the New Zealand Health Ministry is authorizing a poison as an alternative to something certifiably less poisonous, with the rationale that we don't yet know how much less poisonous it is. They are willing to sacrifice lives in the quest for slightly more precise knowledge. Dr. Laugesen is right: "it's a crazy policy!"

The ban does not seem to cover vaping devices themselves, or nicotine-free e-liquids, just the nicotine-containing e-liquids. New Zealanders may still purchase nicotine online from overseas suppliers without penalty, and have them shipped to their addresses in New Zealand, to use in vaporizers they have purchased locally. So Kiwi smokers who seek to quit by vaping can still do so if they are online. But there might be some who are not internet-savvy. Looks like half of them will die. By contrast with the undoubtedly small number who could possibly be slightly harmed by vaping. This silly policy will have its death toll.