While the US Gets More Strict on Vaping, New Zealand Moves to Relax Its Laws

Governments have been unsure how to handle the new technology.

Aug 3 2016, 5:40pm

Image: Michael Button/Flickr

Nobody around the world really knows what to do about vaping. Even as new strict vaping regulations trickle into effect in the US, New Zealand's government is seriously considering un-banning the devices, which have been effectively illegal in the country since they first emerged more than a decade ago.

These divergent approaches demonstrate the key conflict at the root of vaping regulation debates: does the potential good of e-cigarettes getting people to quit smoking outweigh the potential bad?

"There is a lack of clarity about long-term health risks to users and the potential adverse effects on non-users exposed to e-cigarette vapour," reads a policy paper from the New Zealand Ministry of Health outlining to proposed regulation changes. "At the same time, there is general scientific consensus that the exclusive use of e-cigarettes is significantly less harmful than smoking. There is emerging evidence that e-cigarette use may substantially reduce the burden of disease caused by smoking."

Though the New Zealand government took a hard stance against vaping early on, it also supported efforts to better understand the risks and benefits of e-cigarettes. A government-funded study in 2013 was one of the first to demonstrate the smoking-cessation possibilities of vaping, showing people who used e-cigarettes were just as likely to quit as those who use the nicotine patch. More studies have shown that, overall, e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking, which is partly why New Zealand is reconsidering its stance.

Currently, the sale of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and e-liquids is illegal in New Zealand, and you can only purchase devices and liquids that contain no nicotine. It's also legal to import nicotine-spiked products for personal use. But the government has proposed loosening up the ban to allow the sale of nicotine vape products in the country, while still banning the use for kids under 18 and prohibiting e-cigarette advertising. It's not a done deal, and the Ministry of Health is currently seeking public feedback before finalizing the rules, but the government has "agreed in principle to nicotine e-cigarettes being legally available for sale and supply in New Zealand," according to the policy paper.

Meanwhile, in the US, vaping laws are only getting more strict. The Food and Drug Administration's regulations that were revealed this spring come into effect on Monday, August 8. That means that, as of next week, the FDA will enforce regulations nationwide that include prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors (a law that was already in place in a lot of states and cities) and banning free samples. Many of the regulations have been embraced by the vaping community, but the regulations also include a requirement for all vape manufacturers to complete a lengthy, expensive application process that some industry advocates say will put most companies out of business.

A major concern for many regulators is the use of e-cigarettes by teens, which is on the rise in both the US and New Zealand, as well as other countries. But laws to protect youth from vaping are different than the ban in New Zealand, or effective bans, like what may happen in the US if most of the industry crumbles under new regulation. These stricter laws limit the potential of vape products to help smokers quit and may even encourage people to keep, or return, to smoking.

As governments grapple with the best regulatory approach, it's helpful to compare how different strategies around the world pan out.